- Associated Press - Saturday, May 12, 2018

May 8

The Press-Enterprise on voting yes on Prop. 72 for water and tax relief:

Proposition 72 is a rare, commonsense tax relief proposal coming out of Sacramento. As such, we recommend voters approve it.

Currently, homeowners who install rainwater capture systems in their yards face higher property tax bills, which effectively punishes Californians for being responsible and storing water.

Proposition 72, which originated in the Legislature as SCA9 and was unanimously moved through for placement on the ballot earlier this year, seeks to correct this problem.

Simply put, the state constitutional amendment proposes exempting the construction or addition of rainwater-capturing systems from required property-tax reassessments. In other words, Californians will no longer be punished with higher property taxes just because they sought to do the right thing.

Backed by groups as diverse as the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Democratic Party, Proposition 72 would effectively provide the same sort of protections from excessive taxation currently provided to property owners who install rooftop solar panels.

Given California’s recent experiences with drought and water shortages, removing penalties for saving water only makes sense. “Storing and reusing rainwater benefits all of us,” argues state Sen. Steve Glazer, D-Orinda, David Lewis from Save the Bay and Howard Penn from the Planning and Conservation League in the official ballot arguments.

“People should not have to pay a tax penalty for conserving water.”

There are no serious arguments to be made against Proposition 72. For those peculiar few out there who might be worried about how much less money government might get as a result of exempting construction of rainwater storage from property tax reassessments, the fiscal effects are expected to be minimal.

A legislative analysis of the measure suggests “property tax revenue losses probably would be minor, not exceeding a few million dollars per year.” As a means of removing a penalty to property owners who might want to capture rainwater and thereby encouraging others to do it, we think it’s clearly worth it.


May 8

San Francisco Chronicle on Trump’s undone Iran deal endangering all:

President Trump, who seems ready to accept the Nobel Peace Prize for a North Korean nuclear deal that exists only in his imagination, has moved to unravel the real accord that by all reliable accounts is preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear power. The operative difference between these projects - the successful Iran negotiation the president disdains and the hypothetical Korean one he won’t stop boasting about - is that Trump had nothing to do with one of them.

In an announcement Tuesday teased with Trump’s usual reality-showmanship, the president justified withdrawing from the eight-party Iran agreement on the grounds that it does not address every past and present example of Iranian misconduct. In nearly the same breath, he inexplicably hoped that negotiations hardly begun with one of Iran’s few rivals for rogue statehood, North Korea, will usher in a “future of great security and prosperity.”

Trump has done his worst to undo an agreement supported by the United States’ closest allies in Europe, which made vigorous efforts to dissuade him from his headlong course, as well as chief adversaries Russia and China - the latter an indispensable party to any Korean talks. Moreover, Iran’s compliance with the deal since 2015 has been confirmed by the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has carried out a painstaking verification regime, as well as Trump’s top intelligence and military advisers.

Other than the vague superlatives and insults he has heaped on the deal, Trump’s case against it comes down to its inevitable failure to be eternal or perfect. “The deal’s sunset provisions are totally unacceptable,” he proclaimed Tuesday, referring to restrictions on Iran’s uranium enrichment that expire in a decade or more. At the same time, he cited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ballyhooed evidence of Iran’s secret nuclear activities two decades before the agreement was contemplated. But concerns about Iran’s past and future development of nuclear weapons only bolster the case for keeping and extending an agreement that prevents the regime from so arming itself now.

Citing Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, its role in regional conflicts and its ballistic missile program, Trump also criticized the agreement for imposing “no limits at all” on the regime’s “other malign behavior.” In other words, a deal conceived and designed to deal with Iran’s nuclear activities is being blamed for not dealing with its non-nuclear activities.

Continuing in the vein of holding a single international agreement responsible for ending global conflict itself, Trump said the Iran accord “didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace and it never will.” It certainly won’t bring even a measure of stability in light of Trump’s unilateral exit, which at best weakens the United States’ international alliances and standing and at worst clears the way for Iran to resume clandestine nuclear activities.

The president’s dismissal of the prospect of an Iranian bomb as “a weapon that will only endanger the survival of the Iranian regime” is false on its face and contradicted by every international anti-proliferation effort. That includes the Iran deal that Trump has so recklessly undermined and a Korean deal that looks even more remote as a result.


May 7

Ventura County Star on remembering teachers at the ballot box:

Tuesday was National Teacher Day, part of Teacher Appreciation Week, but the tone this year is more consequential than boxes of candy or #ThankATeacher posts on social media.

Across the nation - from Arizona to Kentucky, Colorado to West Virginia - teachers are holding rallies, walking out, even going on strike. They are fighting back after years of low pay and education budget cuts, and successfully turning the tide in some areas.

Many teachers work long hours yet earn modest salaries for all they do in guiding our children to become productive members of society. We should be thanking them every day and especially this week, but we also can be doing more.

Teachers deserve our political support as they rally against underfunded programs, stagnant pay, rising student loan debt and constant criticism from pundits who have never been in a classroom. As we cast votes in next month’s primary election and again in November, we should hold candidates accountable for their support of education, or lack thereof.

A year ago, we editorialized on how this nation expects its teachers to test, teach and then test some more; to parent when parents aren’t doing the job; to convey tolerance and teamwork and empathy and other values that may get short shrift at home. And when something fails, it is always the teacher’s fault.

Meanwhile, teachers earn about 30 percent less than other college graduates, the Learning Policy Institute says. Those earning a master’s degree in education had an average of $50,879 in student loan debt, a 2014 study found. The starting salary for a public-school teacher in America averaged $38,617 in 2016-17, according to the National Education Association.

With at least 17 percent of new teachers leaving the profession within their first five years, it’s no surprise that we have a teacher shortage. The Learning Policy Institute surveyed 25 school districts in California and found 80 percent had a shortage of qualified teachers last fall, with 82 percent hiring underprepared teachers.

So yes, give your child’s teacher a certificate of appreciation this week, share photos on social media with the hashtag #ThankATeacher, and post a photo of you and your favorite childhood teacher on Throw Back Thursday, as the National PTA suggests.

Just don’t forget in June and November to vote for candidates who will give teachers the resources they need to educate our nation - and to feel fulfilled doing it.


May 7

The Sacramento Bee on safeguarding California’s economic future:

Far from the tax-and-spend Democrat that Washington partisans make him out to be, Californians know that Gov. Jerry Brown has been relentless about socking away billions of dollars in the state’s “rainy day” fund, while also warning about a coming economic downturn.

“What’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline and recession,” Brown said in January, unveiling the final budget of his administration. “So good luck, baby.”

Indeed, this is no time to take California’s booming economy for granted. So it is important that in the top-two primary on June 5 voters pick the right candidates to safeguard the state’s financial future. Here’s who we recommend:

Of the four candidates, Fiona Ma is, by far, the best choice. A certified public accountant, former speaker pro tempore of the Assembly and current vice chairwoman of the Board of Equalization, she has broad knowledge of tax policy and state government, making her an ideal fit for California’s top asset manager and banker.

Most recently, Ma made headlines for trying to ferret out nepotism, murky accounting and excess on the Board of Equalization. Her persistent digging and calls for oversight laid the groundwork for bringing the tax board down to a more reasonable size. If elected, she promises to continue that commitment to transparency and accountability.

She also says she’ll be far more active in the Legislature than her low-key predecessor John Chiang, who has endorsed her. That’s a good thing. Already Ma is supporting a bill to create a banking system for cannabis, allowing the state to collect millions of dollars in additional tax revenue. She also is backing legislation that would bring back redevelopment agencies, addressing her goal to increase the state’s investment in affordable housing and expand a first-time homebuyer program.

Unfunded pensions continue to be liability for California and, as treasurer, Ma would sit on the boards of CalPERS and CalSTRS. Finding ways to reduce those costs must be a priority.

Another viable choice for treasurer is Greg Conlon. The Republican served as president of the California Public Utilities Commission and on the California Transportation Commission under former Gov. Pete Wilson. He’s a CPA and has worked as a consultant and conducted financial audits of Fortune 500 companies.

Conlon, who also ran for treasurer in 2014, takes a darker view of the state’s economic condition. He sees the state’s stellar credit rating as misleading, and has pledged to push for tax cuts and focus on the state’s pension and health care obligations to future employees.

Two other candidates, Jack Guerroro, mayor of Cudahy, and Vivek Viswanathan, a former Hillary Clinton aide, have good ideas and energy, but lack experience.


Incumbent Betty Yee has served admirably as California’s chief financial officer and deserves another term. So far, she has focused on getting the state ready for a downturn, rooting out fraud and waste by conducting audits of small cities and Central Valley water districts with weak financial controls and, of course, gutting the Board of Equalization.

Going forward, her plan is to “frame the conversation” around tax reform - a smart move. It’s not sustainable for California to continue relying on a small group of wealthy people to fill the state’s coffers. The same is true for the operations of CalPERS and CalSTRS, which Yee says also will be a focus.

Rounding out the ballot is Konstantinos Roditis, an Orange County businessman. The Republican is running on an interesting, if far-fetched, plan to broaden the state’s tax base and restructure the tax code using what he calls “trickle-up-taxation.” If elected, Roditis said he will focus most of his energy on putting it on the 2020 ballot. He has been endorsed by the California Republican Party.

Mary Lou Finley, member of the a Peace and Freedom Party, is running as well.

Board of Equalization, District 1

Once an all-powerful tax agency, the duties of the tax board have been stripped down to overseeing property tax collection. More than a few candidates say there should be a ballot measure to do away with the rest of the tax board entirely. Some elected officials have said the same thing.

Still, four candidates are vying for the District 1 seat held by a termed-out George Runner.

To fill it, voters should look first to David Evans, a CPA and former mayor of California City who also ran for the Board of Equalization in 2014. Evans is a proponent of keeping the tax board, if only so taxpayers and won’t have to deal with bureaucrats instead. He is open, however, to perhaps reducing the number of meetings and eliminating some support staff.

Another viable choice is Connie Conway, a Republican who spent years in the Assembly and as president of the California State Association of Counties. She is currently a member of the Community College Board of Governors. Although incensed about the way the Democrats gutted the tax board, Conway said she wants to fix what’s left of it from the inside by focusing on taxpayers.

Other candidates include Republican Ted Gaines, who was elected to the Legislature again in 2016. He’d be a capable board member, given the breadth of his experience in state government, but if elected, taxpayers would have to fork over money for a special election to replace Gaines in the state Senate.

Tom Hallinan, the only Democrat in the race, also has the smarts. But, if elected, he has vowed to dismantle what’s left of the Board of Equalization.

That might prove necessary at some point, but we prefer a more measured approach - just as we do for California’s economy.


May 7

The San Diego Union-Tribune on California Republicans being proud to be irrelevant:

California is in an odd place politically. In part because of its largely Democratic elected leaders’ failings, housing costs are so extreme that homelessness has exploded and scores of middle-class families - not just poor people - live paycheck-to-paycheck. A state home to many of the world’s richest companies and individuals has the highest effective poverty rate in the U.S. And with public education, some individual schools and districts enjoy strong reputations, but statewide test scores generally put California well behind liberal states (Massachusetts and New Jersey) and conservative states (Florida and Texas) that have all embraced reforms. In a normal state facing such circumstances, the dominant political party would be on its heels.

But not here. The same California GOP that produced Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan is now content to be a minority party. Its only statewide wins in the 21st century came when it ran intriguing moderates - movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger and tech tycoon Steve Poizner - against unpopular Democrats. But instead of learning from history, this weekend’s state GOP convention attendees in San Diego provided a fresh reminder of how the party faithful prefer their traditional greatest hits - such as hard lines on taxes and immigration and skepticism about climate change - to trying to attract a majority of voters.

The upshot could be a November election that both underscores California Republicans’ weakness and adds to it. Polls show it is a real possibility no Republican will advance as one of the two final candidates in both the governor’s and U.S. Senate races in November’s general election. Republican turnout could actually be depressed if neither Rancho Santa Fe businessman John Cox nor Huntington Beach Assemblyman Travis Allen finishes second in the gubernatorial primary - which looks more likely after a weekend in which neither could obtain the party’s official endorsement. If that happens, it would increase the chances the GOP could lose seven of the 14 California House seats it now controls - making it possible San Francisco Democrat Nancy Pelosi would get an encore as speaker.

If this happens, California Republicans will be forced into some soul-searching. Their self-inflicted wounds may please those who see many Republicans as divisive and disastrously wrong about global warming and other issues, but it shouldn’t please Californians in general. It’s unhealthy for California to be so dominated by one party - especially when that party is too complacent about education, over-regulation, the bullet-train boondoggle, costly public-employee pension programs and more.

This complacence invites criticism of Democrats. But the grim twist for Republicans is they may not benefit from it. This year, decline-to-state voters are on the brink of outnumbering registered GOP voters, with both having about 25 percent of total registration. That’s a lot of voters who reject both parties but would vote for appealing candidates.

So pay attention to Poizner, who is seeking a second term as insurance commissioner while running as an independent. And look to Republicans like Schwarzenegger, former Assembly GOP leader Chad Mayes and Oceanside Assemblyman and congressional candidate Rocky Chavez, who are launching an organization called New Way California in favor of moderate positions on issues like the environment. Some Californians have an appetite for change and for Reagan’s big tent - so long as the focus is on making the state function better, not embracing a Republican agenda on its way to irrelevance. If, as the cliché says, insanity is repeating yourself and expecting different results, the state GOP is ready to be fitted for a straitjacket.

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