- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Dec. 23

Riverside Press-Enterprise on Tesla’s impact on taxpayers:

Yes, we’d love to drive a Tesla - the sleek, fast, electric car made in Fremont by entrepreneur Elon Musk. We just don’t like helping pay for the $70,000-plus vehicles through the state tax system.

State Treasurer John Chiang announced in a statement last week that Tesla would charge up with sales tax rebates of “about $39 million on the purchase of $464 million in goods, spread out over 2015 and 2016.” That money comes in addition to the $7,500 federal tax credit for each electric car and numerous subsidies from other states, such as the $1.3 billion over 20 years from Nevada for building a battery plant in the Silver State.

“The financial incentives we provide help to ensure that California is the base for precision manufacturing,” said Mr. Chiang. “Such investments have the potential to create tens of thousands of high-paying, permanent jobs that bolster the economy, clean the environment, spur low-cost communications and strengthen the national defense.”

But aside from the rest of taxpayers having to pay for the subsidy, this is what is called “industrial policy,” where government favors one company, or one type of investment, over another.

Ironically, Tesla rented a building in Palo Alto last June that formerly housed Solyndra, the solar panel maker that went belly-up in 2011 after burning through $535 million in federal taxpayer-guaranteed loans. It also wasted $25 million in tax breaks from the California Alternative Energy and Advanced Transportation Financing Authority - the same source of Tesla’s tax breaks.

On Dec. 9, Green Car Reports noted that “a new analysis of data provided to Plug-In America by 327 owners of early Tesla Model S cars suggests that as many as two-thirds of those early Model S drivetrains will need to be replaced within 60,000 miles.” By comparison, gas- or diesel-powered cars now typically run beyond 100,000 miles.

Tesla’s stock is up 33 percent from two years ago, but down about 19 percent since July. We certainly hope Tesla does well, to recoup Californians’ involuntarily provided tax “investment” and to preserve California jobs. But nobody knows for sure the company’s future. That’s what markets are for. Government should park its industrial policy.


Dec. 25

Contra Costa Times/Oakland Tribune on improving Medi-Cal:

The No. 1 health care issue facing California in 2016 is the shortage of doctors willing to treat a large number of the 12 million patients insured by Medi-Cal.

The Affordable Care Act is seen as a huge success in California because it has cut the state’s uninsured rate in half. But it will become a farce if physicians continue refusing to accept the abysmally low rates the state pays to treat the quarter of Medi-Cal patients who are not in managed care plans.

The problem escalated this month when civil rights activists filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services saying about 7 million California Latinos covered by Medi-Cal are being denied timely access to a doctor.

It would be a huge mistake to let this evolve into a costly, embarrassing battle that almost certainly would end in a court order forcing California to comply. The state is required by law to certify that its health care plans have enough doctors available.

Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature need to raise Medi-Cal compensation rates as quickly as possible. It is the only way to deliver not only on the state’s commitment to insured residents but also on the promise of lower public costs. As it is, poor patients who can’t find a doctor still have to go to emergency rooms for care, the highest-cost treatment option.

The complaint filed with HHS’s Offices of Civil Rights charges that, in 2014, the government paid primary care doctors who treated nonmanaged-care Medi-Cal patients just 42 percent of what it paid Medicare doctors who treated seniors.

The Legislature in 2011 slashed Medi-Cal rates by 10 percent to help balance the budget during the recession. Revenue has improved, but the governor and lawmakers have not restored the cuts. The state is facing an additional $1 billion hole in its health care budget if the Legislature doesn’t renew its managed care tax, which expires in June.

Brown called for a special session of the Legislature this fall to deal with these issues, but it was a failure. The tobacco lobby called in its chits and tanked a $2-per-pack increase in the tobacco tax Brown had hoped to pass.

Former President Bill Clinton laid down the challenge for California more than two years ago: “If this (the Affordable Care Act) works in California, eventually America will follow your lead. If it comes off the rails here, it will give aid and comfort to everyone who really just wants to say, ‘I told you so.’ “

Handing out meaningless insurance policies is not making health care reform work. If Brown fails to get a tobacco tax increase and a solution to the managed care tax challenge early next year or some other fix, the state will become not a model but a laughing stock. And low-income families who thought getting insurance meant getting health care will feel the brunt of it.


Dec. 26

San Francisco Chronicle on fixing California’s roads:

Six months after Gov. Jerry Brown called a special legislative session for California’s badly crumbling roads, legislators have yet to come up with a fix.

You know who has? Congress.

It’s true, if shocking. This month, both chambers of Congress, that hyper-polarized federal institution, approved a $305 billion bill to fund highways, bridges and transit.

The bill - which is the longest reauthorization of federal transportation projects that Congress has approved in more than a decade - is expected to create tens of thousands of jobs in California.

Meanwhile, California legislators still haven’t come up with a deal for this state.

Caltrans has a $59 billion backlog of deferred road maintenance, and California was ranked 47th out of 50 states for the efficiency and performance of its roads in a 2013 study.

Behind the scenes in Sacramento, state legislators are trying. The sticking point seems to be money - when is it not? - and specifically, how to coax two-thirds of legislators into supporting the new taxes and fees that a bipartisan plan will require. Improving even the worst of the state’s 50,000 miles of roads and its 13,000 bridges will require an annual commitment in the billions.

The difficulty of that commitment is why the state Legislature has taken so long to make it. But while it’s never easy to come up with a plan that may require fees and taxes, there’s never been a better time to do it. Gas prices are low, and California’s roads are only going to get worse.

It’s time for the Legislature to do its job of making choices.


Dec. 28

San Jose Mercury News on Gov. Brown’s response to the Porter Ranch gas leak:

The frightening gas leak at Porter Ranch in Southern California began two months ago. For most of the time since, Gov. Jerry Brown has been silent about it.

As families were evacuated, a no-fly zone created - really - and schools relocated, residents waited to hear from the governor.

But as the disaster was escalating, Brown was talking big on climate change in Paris. He told a small crowd across the Atlantic to “never underestimate the coercive power of the central state in the service of good,” the Sacramento Bee reported. The point being the tough climate regulations that have become a signature of his tenure had a real and positive effect on business and the environment.

So where was his tough talk on the methane leak?

A representative for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) told the Los Angeles News Group 1,200 tons of methane gas were being released daily, adding 25 percent more greenhouse gas to the atmosphere per month than normal. That sounds like an environmental crisis to us.

Famed environmental activist Erin Brockovich has taken to calling it a catastrophe unseen since the 2010 BP oil spill.

Finally last Friday, Brown stood up, sort of, to Southern California Gas, the company responsible for the leaky well and the turgid response.

In a letter to the company’s CEO, Brown stated the obvious - that the gas company, a division of Sempra Energy (where his sister sits on the board), has had an inadequate response to the Porter Ranch leak. The company must be quaking in its collective boots.

Brown’s administration and regulators have been in communication with local officials as everyone scrambles to stop gas from flowing out of a narrow pipe enclosed in a 7-inch well casing a mile and a half underground.

But this is not just a local issue. The danger and the pathetic response could recur in other areas. Brown - and lawmakers - have to mandate changes in how the state examines and deals with natural gas storage.

State Sen. Fran Pavley, who represents the area, plans oversight hearings next year, but those take time. Meanwhile, the highly respected senator has some suggestions the governor should take:

First, hold fast to a moratorium on production around this well, where dozens of other wells supplying Southern California also sit.

Second, push CARB and the Department of Conservation’s Division of Oil, Gas & Geothermal Resources to toughen regulation of underground gas injection wells.

Brown also needs to make sure the state is sufficiently enforcing existing rules, inspecting underground storage wells and identifying safety problems. A report to the Public Utilities Commission last year found weakness in the program, but don’t wait for the PUC to get tough.

Brown, having apparently awakened to the disaster, and the Legislature need to act.


Dec. 29

Porterville Recorder on new laws that take effect in 2016:

Every year our state Legislature sees fit to pass a slew of new laws, some needed and many unneeded. Yet, come the start of a new year residents must be aware of those new laws and what impacts they may have on them.

One of the major changes is the minimum wage is going up to $10 an hour New Year’s Day. That means those who work for minimum wage or just slightly above will see a little more in their paycheck. It also means those who pay those wages will have to adjust to cover the added costs, including restaurants and farmers. Those who aren’t directly effected by the wage hike could see higher prices at their favorite restaurants as they adjust to cover the extra expense.

For parents of school children, this year will mean parents will have to make sure their children have all the required vaccinations in order for their children to attend school next fall.

There are several laws drivers need to be aware of. First, people can no longer wear a headset covering, earplugs in, or earphones covering, resting on, or inserted in, both ears, while operating a motor vehicle or a bicycle.

There are a slew of other new laws, including one requiring toy guns to have more features to distinguish them as toys, mandatory sexual education courses in public schools and another which bars concealed firearms on college campuses and K-12 schoolgrounds.

Every year the Legislature passes hundreds of bills and many go unnoticed, yet most will impact the daily lives of citizens. It is best for residents to pay attention to their lawmakers to ensure laws which are approved will make lives safer and better.

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