The second, third and fourth pieces are all found in the OC Register. The second piece deals with behests. This reporting requirement really made me freeze when asked to assist nonprofits in the fund raising efforts. Last year I was asked to be the keynote speaker for an organization’s Christmas luncheon and to name a nonprofit to highlight. I selected the Orange County Rescue Mission, where I was sworn in to office following the 2015 State Senate Special Election. At the conclusion of the luncheon, this organization handed Jim Palmer, the CEO, a check for $5,000. Both of us were surprised. But, out of an abundance of caution, I filed the report.
The fourth and final piece is an editorial piece from the other side of the aisle and gives a good picture of the fun I’m having in Sacramento.
Eliminate licensing laws to boost
Must you get the government’s permission to work in a legal occupation in America? For an increasing number of people, the answer is yes.
During the 1950s, only about one in 20 workers were required to have a government license to ply their trades, but now that figure is more like one in three, according to research by Morris M. Kleiner, professor of public policy and labor studies at the University of Minnesota and a recognized expert on occupational licensing.
Licensing laws are oftentimes very arbitrary, varying greatly from one state to another, and speak more to industry groups’ political lobbying skills than any actual need to protect consumer safety over and above the market’s natural ability to weed out poor practitioners. In fact, while it is politically expedient to claim that new licensing laws are necessary to protect public safety, they are nearly always advocated by industry trade groups looking to raise barriers for potential rivals to limit competition, and thus boost profits.
The problem is even more acute in California than other places. In a study I did for the Reason Foundation in 2007, I found that California requires licenses for 177 job categories — nearly twice the national average of 92. California even tried (unsuccessfully, thankfully) to impose statewide licensing on pet groomers a few years back.
To address the rapid and unnecessary proliferation of occupational licensing laws, state Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, introduced Senate Bill 247, which proposed eliminating or reducing licensing requirements for auctioneers, barbers, cremated remains disposers, hearing aid dispensers, landscape contractors, locksmiths, makeup artists, private investigators and upholsterers. Crucially, it also would prohibit local governments from imposing their own new licensing requirements.
At the other end of the spectrum is Assembly Bill 1110 by Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, D-Inglewood. The legislation would require parents to take their children entering kindergarten or initially enrolling in elementary school to a physician, optometrist or ophthalmologist for a comprehensive eye exam, rather than a basic vision screening, which proponents contend is insufficient and perpetuates undiagnosed problems that can affect student learning. (Under current state law, school nurses conduct vision screenings for students in second, fifth and eighth grades.) At least AB1110 would allow parents to opt out, though they would have to submit a written waiver to the school, after which their children would receive the school’s vision screenings on the regular schedule.
Not surprisingly, the bill is sponsored by the California Board of Optometry.
But even many practitioners acknowledge that it would be gratuitous and costly. It is “absolutely not” necessary for every child to receive a comprehensive eye exam, Dr. Kenneth Cheng, chair of the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus’ Legislative Committee told Southern California Public Radio. “[E]specially in a state like California that has a fairly large Medicaid population, the burden financially on the state would be tremendous and wasteful,” he said. The real motivation of the bill’s supporters, Cheng contended, is that “it will fill their offices.”
There is no shortage of licensing abuse stories, from the Arizona State Board of Cosmetology investigating a cosmetology student for giving free haircuts to dozens of homeless people (because he does not have a license), to Tennessee requiring those practicing massage therapy on horses to become licensed veterinarians, to Louisiana licensing florists (the only state to do so) — to protect the public from the scourge of poor floral arrangements, I suppose.
Occupational licensing laws infringe on the economic liberty of individuals to work in a legal occupation of their choosing and enjoy the fruits of their labor. They are particularly damaging to those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, who are least able to afford to jump through the regulatory hoops necessary to obtain a license. Yet, Moorlach’s bill was killed in committee this week, while Burke’s bill has advanced out of the Assembly Education Committee. If legislators want to do more than pay lip service to creating economic opportunity, especially for the poor, then they should start by legalizing the freedom to work and eliminating onerous and unnecessary occupational licensing laws.
Adam B. Summers is a columnist with the Southern California News Group.
Private donors pour millions
into California politicians’ pet
By TERI SFORZA
‘Tis better to give than to receive, they say — especially when you’re giving someone else’s money.
Since 2011, California public officials have steered more than $74.5 million of other people’s money to their favorite causes and charities, often donated by business and other entities hoping to influence elected leaders, demonstrate their stellar citizenship to the masses, or perhaps a bit of both.
While state law sets caps on gifts and campaign contributions to politicians, there’s no limit on so-called “behested payments” to politicians’ pet projects. Critics say it’s another way for the well-heeled to curry official favor, while lawmakers say they’re simply using the power of their bully pulpits to make the world a better place.
Nine pols facilitated behests worth more than $1 million each since 2011, according to data from the Fair Political Practices Commission. They were overwhelmingly from the Bay Area, Los Angeles and San Diego, while officials from Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties displayed their more conservative leanings, facilitating behests that look paltry by comparison.
No. 1: Gov. Jerry Brown was the most prolific at helping money change hands for charities, reporting behests of more than $22 million. Most of that money went to two charter schools he founded in Oakland – $13 million to the Oakland Military Institute College Prep Academy (“develops leaders of character by providing a rigorous seven-year college preparatory program to promote excellence in the four pillars of academics, leadership, citizenship, and athletics”) and $5.8 million to the Oakland School for the Arts (“Immersive arts experiences in a college preparatory setting, providing students unique opportunities for learning, innovation, expression and personal growth”).
No. 2: Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, R-San Diego, was next, shepherding $12.7 million in government grants and tax credits to businesses. Nearly half – $6 million – went to Poway’s Transportation Power, Inc., to develop alternative fuel and vehicle technology. A $2 million tax credit went to San Diego ship builder General Dynamics NASSCO; a $1.85 million tax credit went to San Diego’s Pacific Steel Group; and $1 million grant went to the Chino nonprofit River Partners to restore riparian habitat. A 2015 law removed such government grants and credits as reportable behests, so Maienschein will presumably fall much farther down the list going forward.
No. 3: Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, tallied up $5.5 million in behests. Most of that went to Oakland’s Viridis Fuels – $3.4 million – as a grant from the California Energy Commission to develop alternative fuel and vehicle technology. Another $1 million went to Chino’s River Partners to restore riparian habitat; and $500,000 to Bring Me a Book in Mountain View, to support the Bay Area’s early literacy initiative for preschoolers through use of technology.
No. 4: State schools superintendent Tom Torlakson helped $2.9 million change hands. The overwhelming majority of that went to the the Californians Dedicated to Education Foundation in Dublin, which was formed after Torlakson unveiled his “Blueprint for Great Schools” reform agenda in 2011 “to incubate and elevate promising statewide initiatives that otherwise lacked institutional capacity.”
No. 5: Former California Attorney General and current U.S. Senator Kamala Harris reported $1.85 million in behests. That includes $405,000 for the Los Angeles Mission College Foundation; $400,000 for Five Keys Charter School in San Francisco (nonprofit operating accredited charter schools and programs for transitional foster youth); and $348,500 for the Attorney General inaugural fund.
No. 6: Sen. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, $1.5 million. The bulk of it – $1.4 million – went to the California Legislative Black Caucus Policy Institute (nonprofit supporting African-American culture and the participation of African-Americans in society, as well as educating the public about issues).
No. 7: Former Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, $1.3 million. About half – $710,000 – went to the State Legislative Leaders Foundation (“a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to professional development for our nation’s current and future state legislative leaders”) and $206,500 went to Proyecto Pastoral at Dolores Mission (“a non-profit organization working in the economically and politically disenfranchised community of Boyle Heights”).
No. 8: Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, $1 million. All of it went to the California Legislative Black Caucus Policy Institute.
No. 9: Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, D-San Diego, $1 million. The bulk of it – $800,000 – went to the Maritime Museum of San Diego.
Orange County’s electeds were mostly chintzy by comparison (Tony Mendoza, $233,000; Diane Harkey, $142,448; Bill Brough, $50,000; Jim Silva, 49,198; Lou Correa, $40,014; Mimi Walters, $38,417; Chuck DeVore, $36,444; Tom Daly, Janet Nguyen, Jose Solorio and Sharon Quirk-Silva, $20,000 each; Pat Bates and Tom Harmon, $10,000 each; Steven Choi, Allan Mansoor and John Moorlach, $5,000 each).
In Riverside and San Bernardino, Assemblywoman Marie Waldron reported $810,000, almost all for the Maritime Museum of San Diego. Richard Roth reported $120,000; Anthony Portantino, $101,489; Jean Fuller, $54,198; Chris Holden, $27,500; Mike Morrell and Melissa Melendez, $10,000 each; Jeff Stone, Chad Mayes, Eduardo Garcia, Jose Medina, Thomas Lackey, $5,000 each.
The $22 million shepherded by Gov. Brown came from hundreds of donors, including glitzy types like SKYY vodka’s creator, Maurice Kanbar of San Francisco (who gave $1 million to the Oakland Military Institute through the Maurice S. Kanbar Revocable Trust); and no-nonsense business types like Home Depot of Orange, which donated $794,795 to the California Conservation Corps Foundation in Sacramento to provide drought relief kits to disadvantaged homeowners.
About one-third of total behests — and the biggest chunks of change — came as grants and tax credits from the government itself. The California Energy Commission distributed $9.4 million; the California Coastal Conservancy, $9 million; the Governor’s Office of Business & Economic Development (GO-Biz), $4.9 million; the California State Wildlife Conservation Board and Governor’s Office of Emergency Services, $1 million each. Such grants no longer need to be reported as behests.
But the overwhelming majority came from private givers, some who may have business pending in one state office or another.
The biggest private giver was the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which donated $1.5 million in employee time to work on cases for the state via nearly three dozen individual lawmakers, including former and current lawmakers Mimi Walters, Jim Silva, Sam Blakeslee, Chuck DeVore, Diane Harkey and Ted Gaines, according to the data.
Donations from AT&T totaled nearly $1.4 million, also via dozens of lawmakers, including the governor, Mitchell and Sen. Kevin De Leon.
The Barona Band Mission Indians, with a casino in San Diego, gave $1.15 million via more than 100 lawmakers, mostly in behests of $5,000 and $10,000. Those officials included Gov. Brown, Jones-Sawyer, Sen. Joel Anderson, Sen. Toni Atkins and a great many more.
Pros & Cons
Evan Westrup, spokesman for Gov. Brown, said the behests do good.
“These donations represent an opportunity for foundations, businesses and individuals to invest in their communities and help students succeed,” Westrup said by email. “The governor is very proud of the two schools he founded in Oakland more than a decade ago, which have served thousands of Bay Area students – many the first in their family to go on to college.”
Assemblywoman Gonzalez Fletcher agreed. “I am proud to do everything in my power to help every worthy non-profit that asks me for help,” she said in a prepared statement. “Clearly, since I am only number nine, I have more work to do.”
Jace Duval, spokesman for VSP, said nearly all of its behested payments represent the value of charitable eye care services it provides to underserved populations.
“These efforts align with our longstanding goal as a company to close the gap in access to eye care in California and globally,” Duval said in a written statement. “Our charitable services include comprehensive eye exams provided by VSP network doctors aboard our mobile eye care clinics, prescription glasses, or gift certificates which are distributed and then can be used to receive eye care services from a doctor who participates in our network. In California that’s more than 6,300 doctors.”
The care is reported as behested payments because elected official requested eye care be provided for their needy constituents, he said.
Observers are skeptical.
“Bottom line – this is another way to ‘win friends and influence people,’ to borrow a line from the title of Dale Carnegie’s famous book,” said Mark Petracca, political science professor at UC Irvine. “In a sense, these funds are being ‘laundered’ through elected officials, to the benefit of the elected officials in so far as their ‘generosity’ can be praised, celebrated … and of course, advertised.
“The people/corporations, etc., who donate benefit via the good will they create with the electeds, the electeds benefit via the good will they generate with the organizations which receive these bonuses (and from the clients/users of these organizations), and those who receive the money certainly benefit. While not an ‘iron triangle’ (about which so much has been written in political science going back to the early 1960s), it is a mutually beneficial triangle of some sort.”
Fred Smoller, political science professor at Chapman University, said behests are a legal way to dodge campaign finance laws.
“Why a behest? If the foundation wants to give money to a nonprofit because they believe in what they are doing, then just do it,” Smoller said. “Clearly it’s an effort to ingratiate themselves with the elected, and the elected’s effort to increase his or her political footprint.
“Also, it undermines the integrity and credibility of the person’s office. Let’s say there’s a judge who presides over big tobacco cases. What if Phillip Morris, the cigarette company, gave millions to her favorite charity in the judge’s name? Does that pass your ‘stink’ test? The behest giving suggests a secret agenda.”
Orange County drivers are no winners in Sacramento backroom deal
In recent days, Orange County drivers have heard from some people about how everyone will benefit greatly from the transportation finance bill (Senate Bill 1) that the California Legislature approved this month. More money for road repairs and a constitutional “guarantee” to protect new transportation tax dollars. What’s not to like?
Actually, there is plenty to dislike. The bill includes the largest gas tax increase in California’s history — a $5.2 billion annual tax increase that grows over time and never ends. Californians with low to moderate incomes lose big with SB1 as it raises the gas tax by 70 percent and increases the cost of registering a car. In addition, the new law makes an obscure change in how gas taxes are calculated and guarantees that gas taxes will be higher by another seven cents per gallon in July 2019. In other words, drivers will pay closer to 20 cents a gallon more in taxes compared to today.
The big winners of SB1 are bureaucrats who want more money without real accountability and the boosters of high-speed rail whose funding remains untouched. It is appalling that 30 percent of the new taxes will not even be used for road repairs. Even worse, the bill also mandates that less than 5 percent of new funds can go to traffic relief or lane expansion.
Some are hailing the decision to pass the massive tax increase as an opportunity to finally repair California’s crumbling roads. There is no doubt that our roads need to be fixed, but the dismal shape of those roads is not the result of Sacramento not having enough of your money.
Consider this — the state’s General Fund has grown from $100 billion in 2012 to more than $125 billion this year — a record high. Yet the Legislature did not allocate more money for road repairs.
Those who voted for the tax increase promise that a new constitutional amendment (ACA 5) will protect the new taxes for transportation projects. Although this amendment provides some protection for new tax revenues, it does nothing to protect existing revenues that are already being siphoned from transportation. Nor does it prevent the state from using the new taxes for high-speed rail.
So you may ask, what is our plan? Over the past two years, Republican senators introduced a package of bills that would have funded transportation by reprioritizing the state’s current expenditures rather than raising taxes.
This effort included SBX1 9 (John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa) and SBX1 13 (Andy Vidak, R-Hanford) to hold Caltrans accountable for their spending, SBX1 11 (Tom Berryhill, R-Twain Harte) to reduce delays related to the California Environmental Quality Act, SCAX1 1 (Bob Huff, R-San Dimas) to ensure transportation fees and taxes are spent only on transportation, and SBX1 3 (Vidak) and SBX1 6 (Sharon Runner, R-Lancaster) to redirect high-speed rail funding to needed transportation projects. All of these bills failed to get out of the Democrat-controlled Senate. Another bill that would have funded road repairs without higher taxes, Assembly Bill 2 (Vince Fong, R-Bakersfield), also failed to get out of the Democrat-controlled Assembly.
Californians deserve a transportation package that is fiscally responsible. Unfortunately, SB1 fails to outline specific projects to inform taxpayers exactly what they are getting for their money. Counties have enacted voter-approved fees tied to strict accountability standards in the past. These local efforts, such as Measure M1 (1990) and M2 (2006) in Orange County, were successful because voters knew exactly what improvements their money paid for. Voters do not have the same assurances with SB1.
California already spends two and a half times the national average on maintenance per mile of roadway, yet we have roads that rate among the nation’s worst in pavement condition and congestion. Throwing more money without real reforms may repair some roads, but it will not solve the bigger problem of overspending in Sacramento that has persisted for years.
Orange County drivers are being punished for the majority party’s spending mistakes, and unless more people rise up and make their voices heard, they will be punished again and again.
Senate Republican Leader Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and Senators John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) and Janet Nguyen (R-Garden Grove) represent Orange County districts in the California Legislature.
Putting partisanship aside for
the good of Orange County
Orange County is a donor county. This means that collectively we send far more in revenue to the state than we receive back. Not surprisingly, this impacts almost every aspect of our lives. It would be difficult to identify a public service that wouldn’t be in a better position to serve the public if we just received back approximately the amount of revenue we send to Sacramento.
Politicians across the political spectrum in Orange County decry the unfairness of our donor status. But there are some lawmakers who are working to bring much needed resources to our communities. And there’s another portion of our Sacramento delegation that joins a chorus of blame, yet does everything imaginable to ensure the situation never changes.
This ultra-partisan group continues to submit legislation it knows will not only never pass, but will infuriate the very people who have the power to bring the resources back to O.C. that we so desperately need. This past week, hundreds of workers from across California got a front row seat to this kind of dysfunction when the California Labor Federation brought them to the Capitol to talk to lawmakers.
For example, we are advocating for legislation that protects whistleblowers from retaliation in the workplace. We are fighting to streamline an arduous process of establishing safety regulations that protect workers from dangerous conditions, such as exposure to chemicals, heat and violence in the workplace. We are pushing for transparency on prescription drug pricing, so that families’ budgets are not decimated when life-saving drug costs unexpectedly skyrocket.
An additional major focus of the O.C. meetings involved advocating for more resources to come back here to O.C.
In preparation for these meetings, local workers reached out to the entire county delegation three months in advance of our trip to schedule briefings. And we scheduled a day that was packed with meetings with our representatives, and also with the legislative leaders who would need to help with this effort.
Sen. Josh Newman, Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, Assemblyman Tom Daly and Sen. Tony Mendoza all shared specific examples of their efforts to bring resources to O.C.
But not a single member of the county’s Republican delegation would meet with workers from their districts. (To their credit, Sen. John Moorlach and Assemblyman Steven Choi at least sent staff members in their place who both listened intently and provided valuable feedback.)
Meanwhile, instead of meeting with constituents, many of these lawmakers were busy advocating for failing legislation that may be popular with a small segment of their supporters, but only alienates them from the rest of their colleagues in the Capitol and reinforces the inaccurate and negative stereotypes about our community.
For example, the same week he refused to meet with his constituents, Assemblyman Matt Harper advocated for anti-worker legislation that was predictably defeated in committee. Since his election in 2014, Assemblyman Harper has only authored two bills and one resolution that were ultimately adopted — none of which brought additional resources to O.C.
We all know O.C. deserves better. And our image is also changing in Sacramento. We have become more and more a largely pluralistic, tolerant, creative and diverse population, and increasingly more of our elected leaders reflect that.
Now it’s time for our resources and our leadership to reflect that. We deserve our fair share from the state, and urge all O.C. lawmakers to work collaboratively to make that happen.
Jennifer Muir Beuthin is general manager of the Orange County Employees Association.
This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District.
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