- Associated Press - Thursday, March 16, 2017

March 13

San Francisco Chronicle on Calexit:

Californians who would rather secede from the union than be governed by President Trump - a third of us, according to a post-inaugural Reuters/Ipsos poll - would do well to recall another populist president known for his confrontational manner and hairdo.

Andrew Jackson, who turns 250 this week, has seen his place on the $20 bill challenged for such good reasons as his monstrous Indian removal policy. But he was an early and fierce advocate for union, staring down separatists figuratively and literally: He famously looked at secessionist John C. Calhoun at a political dinner while toasting, “Our federal union: It must be preserved.”

Jackson’s political war with disunion prefigured the actual war that nearly destroyed the nation three decades later. That disastrous history alone should be enough to reveal the recent talk of California secession for the folly that it is, deserving no more serious consideration than that of Texas secession under President Barack Obama. It’s no accident that the campaign to place a secessionist measure on California’s ballot has Kremlin-linked support. Even given remote chances of success, America’s enemies rightly view such movements as weakening the country.

They also fray the ties that bind the state. Talk of a “Calexit” is bound to embolden the northern, rural interests that have pushed to secede from California, much as the English-driven “Brexit” from the European Union has strengthened the cause of Scots who favor separation from the United Kingdom.

Trump, as it happens, fancies himself a Jacksonian, having moved a portrait of Old Hickory into the Oval Office. Unfortunately, he has shown more of Jackson’s penchant for divisiveness than he has of his appreciation for union. Californians should not make the same

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March 10

Mercury News on funding veterans’ treatment courts:

It is heartbreaking to see veterans of the U.S. military fall on hard times once they return home from active duty.

All too often, they struggle with mental health and substance abuse often because of service-related issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder.

These problems can lead to poverty, homelessness and involvement with the criminal justice system.

Homeless activists in San Jose and Santa Clara County have made housing homeless veterans a priority and are making very good progress. But given the unique experiences of military veterans, it’s also important for our criminal justice system to offer alternatives to incarceration.

Veterans deserve credit for serving their country - and a second chance.

Toward this end, California Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, and Assemblywoman Sabrina Cervantes, D-Corona, have introduced legislation to identify best practices in dealing with such cases and to facilitate the expanded use of veterans’ treatment courts. Philanthropist B. Wayne Hughes, Jr. has pledged to personally fund half of the $200,000 needed for this assessment.

The idea of veterans treatment courts is not new. They are implemented to varying degrees in half of California’s 58 counties, including Alameda County. These courts act as a sort of intervention. They work collaboratively to deal with military veterans in criminal cases where their actions were associated with mental health and substance abuse problems.

Typically, prosecutors, public defenders, service providers and others work together to give offenders a chance to participate in programs that address the underlying causes of their criminal behavior. Participants may participate in treatment and receive help finding housing and employment. They’re held accountable through judicial oversight.

It is an admirable program and, done properly, is cost-effective.

According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, it costs an average of $71,000 per year to incarcerate someone in state prison. The state has a high rate of recidivism and inadequate funding for rehabilitative services, Veterans’ treatment courts serve a vital role in providing cost- and life-saving alternatives to incarceration for men and women recovering from service-related problems. This fundamentally serves the interests of justice.

Public safety isn’t always served by incarceration, any more than justice is. Evidence-based, proven alternatives that give individuals an opportunity to overcome their problems and live productive lives ought to be available to all offenders with drug and mental health issues. But at the very least, we have to do better by our veterans.

The Legislature should thoughtfully consider Senate Bill 339 and find a way to make it work all over California.

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March 6

The Orange County Register on the cost of fixing California’s infrastructure:

There is broad agreement that California has allowed its infrastructure to seriously deteriorate, but not much accord on how to pay for the necessary improvements.

According to the American Society of Civil Engineers’ 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, half of the state’s public roads are in poor condition, each motorist pays an average of $844 per year in costs from driving on roads in need of repair, 1,388 bridges (5.5 percent) are structurally deficient and there are 678 “high-hazard potential” dams.

The funding problem is pretty substantial. The administration has identified approximately $77.4 billion worth of deferred maintenance needs alone, the vast majority of which are for transportation ($57 billion) and water resources ($13.1 billion). And just last month Gov. Jerry Brown valued the state’s total unmet transportation and water infrastructure needs at $187 billion.

“We’ve ignored some of the fundamentals for too long,” state transportation secretary Brian Kelly recently told the Sacramento Bee.

Brown’s proposed fiscal year 2017-18 budget includes a plan to raise more than $4 billion in revenue for transportation by hiking vehicle registration fees by $65 a year, increasing gas excise taxes and dedicating an additional $500 million in cap-and-trade auction proceeds. Under the proposal, the gasoline tax rate would rise from 27.8 cents per gallon to 39.5 cents per gallon - a 42 percent increase - and the diesel fuel tax rate would soar from 16 cents per gallon to 27 cents per gallon - a 69 percent jump. Both increases would go into effect in FY 2018-19, and would be adjusted based on inflation thereafter.

State Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, chairman of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, has offered his own alternative, Senate Bill 1, which would generate an additional $5.5 billion a year in revenue. It includes a smaller annual raise in vehicle registration fees ($38), a similar 12-cents-per-gallon gas tax hike (over three years), a 20-cents-per-gallon increase in the diesel excise tax, a 4 percent increase in the diesel sales tax and a new $100 annual fee on drivers of zero-emission vehicles, who are able to avoid gas taxes.

The gas tax is at least a fairly close approximation to a user fee, which is preferable because those who use the roads should bear the burden of maintaining them. But the state has not proven that it can responsibly spend the money it already has. The California Department of Transportation is rife with waste and inefficiency, as numerous reports from the State Auditor and the Legislative Analyst’s Office have revealed. The LAO reported in 2014 that Caltrans maintains approximately 3,500 redundant engineers and architects at a cost of more than $500 million a year. State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, notes that Caltrans also does very little contracting, and estimates that if we outsourced 50 percent of our transportation engineers and architects, like most other states do, we could save another $200 million a year.

California has mismanaged its scarce resources through waste, devoted a greater and greater share of transportation funds to public transit, which accounts for only a small fraction of the total number of trips taken and has seen declining ridership, and poured billions of dollars into an unnecessary high-speed rail boondoggle that will not address the state’s transportation problems. Bailing out such mismanagement with tax increases will only enable more of the same dysfunctional behavior. Until the state gets serious about putting its own house in order and making transportation a real priority, policymakers should put the brakes on any tax increases.

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March 7

Pasadena Star-News on a federal crackdown on marijuana:

We’re disappointed that White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently said “greater enforcement” of federal drug laws, including prohibition of marijuana, is coming.

“There’s a federal law that we need to abide by when it comes to recreational marijuana and other drugs of that nature,” he said. This, at a time when a majority of Americans support not only limiting federal enforcement of marijuana laws but outright legalizing the drug.

Such a move would run counter to multiple statements by Donald Trump on the campaign trail. “(In) terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state,” he said, for example, during a campaign rally on Oct. 29, 2015.

From a constitutional perspective, this is the most sensible and pragmatic approach to marijuana. Nowhere in the U.S. Constitution is there a provision granting the federal government the authority to prohibit intoxicants. In America’s prior engagement with the folly of prohibition, that of alcohol, proponents of prohibition at least had the decency to seek and obtain a narrowly worded constitutional amendment, the 18th Amendment, to justify federal intervention. This hasn’t been true of marijuana or other drugs.

Voters in most states that have been presented a ballot initiative on marijuana legalization have opted to approve it. Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have approved outright legalization for medicinal and recreational use, while a majority of states have approved marijuana for medicinal use.

Most Americans are simply ready to be done with the issue. A Quinnipiac poll released last month found 71 percent of Americans opposed to the enforcement of federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized it for recreational or medicinal purposes. This includes 55 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of independents and 80 percent of Democrats. On the question of legalization, pollsters found support from 59 percent of respondents.

A renewal of a failed and constitutionally dubious federal crackdown on marijuana is simply not a priority of the American public. Gone are the days of reefer madness and even “Just Say No,” with legalization, taxation and regulation seen as a more efficacious and just means of combating the harms of marijuana use, while respecting the freedom of individual choice.

We encourage the federal government to take a hands-off approach toward marijuana. Meanwhile, we support efforts in Congress to remove marijuana from federal control.

Last week, Reps. Tom Garrett, R-Va., and Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, introduced the “Ending Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2017,” which would remove marijuana from the federal Controlled Substances Act and thus grant states the flexibility to deal with it. This bill should bring together those who believe in states rights, individual freedom and a sensible justice system.

The pretense of federal marijuana prohibition - that arresting users, growers and sellers of marijuana will prevent use of the drug - has long been shown to be nothing more than a harmful delusion that has criminalized far too many people. We encourage President Trump to do the right thing and allow states to make their own choices.

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March 10

The Riverside Press-Enterprise on bringing the Olympic Games to Los Angeles:

The increasing likelihood that Los Angeles will be chosen to host the 2024 Olympic Games comes as good news to the vast majority of Southern Californians.

A poll last year showed more than 80 percent of L.A. County residents either “strongly supportive” or “somewhat supportive” of the Summer Olympics coming here for the third time.

Now, if we didn’t know better, we’d think the main appeal of the Olympics in your backyard would be the chance to watch the world’s greatest athletes compete for sport’s biggest prizes. But a Loyola Marymount University poll last year found the top reasons Angelenos want the Olympics had to do with the expectation that the event would be good for the economy, that it would create a general economic boost, create jobs and spark tourism.

Going to the Games yourself? Maybe people already realized that, like all major sports events, the most popular competitions would be unaffordable for the typical family.

That was confirmed last month when L.A.’s latest bid documents showed the average ticket for the 2024 Olympics would cost $136.87. You could get into the canoe preliminaries for $5.10. But major events? You’re looking at $256 to watch athletes go for gold medals in basketball, $270 in diving, $370 in gymnastics, $420 in swimming, $457 in track and field. The much-anticipated opening ceremony? Forget it - the average ticket would cost $1,783.

If, as projected, 97 percent of seats were sold, tickets would account for about $1.2 billion of the L.A. Olympics’ $5.3 budget.

With Budapest dropping its bid, either Paris or L.A. will be chosen in September to host the 2024 Games. L.A.’s experience with the Olympics (1932, 1984) and wealth of existing venues allow it to promise a “low-cost, low-risk” bid. Mayor Eric Garcetti says the Games not only would not cost the city money but would be an economic boon, a claim backed by a Beacon Economics/UC Riverside study in January saying the event would generate up to $11.2 billion for the economy.

Popular support would depend on the L.A. Games being a gold mine, as much fiscally as athletically. All the more reason for organizers and public officials to make sure no public expense is required.

Whether or not many people here would get to see the Games themselves, they’d expect to cheer as the economic gains roll in.

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