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School District's Bond Controversy Reveals Rising Concern About 'Pay-to-Play'

Vital force.

CUSD’s Kirsten Vital 

In the space of just a few months, state officials have suddenly turned their attention to a problem in the public-educational shadows: insider dealing among California school district officials and outside vendors.

In a January opinion, state Attorney General Kamala Harris concluded that school officials had become too cozy with companies that stand to benefit from passage of high-ticket school bonds.

“A school or community college district violates California constitutional and statutory prohibitions against using public funds to advocate passage of a bond measure by contracting with a person or entity for services related to a bond election campaign if the pre-election services may be fairly characterized as campaign activity,” Harris wrote.

In July, California Treasurer John Chiang warned districts about the same problem. And in August, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law AB 2116, creating financial oversight committees for the spending of bond revenue.

Despite the scrutiny, companies looking to do business with the Capistrano Unified School District are major contributors to the district’s massive $889 million bond, Measure M on the November ballot.

Contributors include construction, engineering and architecture firms. Documents first published by Dawn Urbanek, a South County activist, show Tilden-Coil Constructors gave $25,000; $15,000 came from WLC Architects; computer giant Dell gave $4,000 to the effort.

Some of the contributors have already worked for the district. WLC Architects designed the Capistrano Valley High School Performing Arts Center. School officials approved five payments to WCL Architects (total: $43,781.03) during a September 14 meeting.  

At the center of the controversy: CUSD’s top administrator, Superintendent Kirsten Vital.

Vital ran into similar trouble at her job in the Alameda Unified School District. Her highest-profile collision in Alameda involved an Oakland-based political consulting firm with multiple ties to the district. That firm worked for Vital to promote the district’s Measure H Bond in 2008. The next year, the school board appointed the firm’s two partners to a Master Plan Advisory Group that year. That same year, Vital paid the firm $14,000 for “design and programming of AUSD website redesign.” In the same year, Vital created a webmaster position and hired AUSD Board Trustee Mike McMahon’s daughter Rebecca McMahon to fill the position. Her salary, depending on tenure, ranged from $41,000 to $51,000 per year.

At the same time, Vital faced a series of pay cuts in Alameda. She earned $273,908 in 2012; dropped to $262,823 in 2013, and to $214,031 in 2014. In three years her pay dropped 22%.

Interestingly, Joseph M. Farley, her predecessor at CUSD, rode a more dramatic financial downhill. Documents provided by Transparent California show Farley earning $287,073 in 2013. In 2014, he made just $203,773, a one-year drop of 29%.

 

vitalsalary-2

 

Vital’s original CUSD 2014-2018 contract gave her an annual salary of $305,000 – a huge bump over her Alameda salary (and Farley’s in CUSD). She also received a $15,000 relocation assistance stipend. That four-year deal was amended after just two years, in 2016. The new contract, extended through 2020, gave her an annual salary of $319,244 and another bonus, this one a $14,244 “discretionary payment.”

Conor McGarry is a graduate of California State University–Dominguez Hills, and a Journalism Fellow at California Policy Center.

 

Gov. Brown says yes to school finance reforms inspired by CPC study

For Immediate Release
August 18, 2016
California Policy Center
Contact: Will Swaim
Will@CalPolicyCenter.org
(714) 573-2231

SACRAMENTO — It’s rare that a think-tank study produces real reform, but it happened today when Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law a bill designed to stop school officials before they recklessly spend again.

Assembly Bill 2116 began one year ago with a July 2015 California Policy Center study.

For the Kids: California voters must become wary of borrowing billions from wealthy investors for educational construction,” by CPC researcher Kevin Dayton, tracked passage over 14 years of more than 900 California school bonds worth $146.1 billion.

Inspired by that CPC study, Rep. James Gallagher (R-Sacramento Valley) drafted a bill to limit the ability of school districts to take on debt through new bonds – even authorizing county auditors to stop spending if bond “funds are not being spent appropriately.”

“I am pleased that the governor saw the need to increase oversight of school bonds,” Gallagher said in a press release. “Borrowing for bonds has exploded in the last decade, and it is more important than ever that school construction bond funds be fiscally sound and their financing mechanisms transparent.”

In addition to waste and abuse in the management of those school bonds, Dayton found another problem: the surge in school bond debt has produced a massive “wealth shift” upward – from taxpayers of relatively modest means to “wealthy investors who buy state and local government bonds as a relatively safe investment that generates tax-exempt income through interest payments.”

Gallagher’s bill implements California Policy Center recommendations to kill one of the most pernicious municipal finance practices. The new law limits the ability of bond advisers to exaggerate property values when calculating the taxpayer burden.

“We dedicated tremendous resources to producing this study, and we were naturally pleased to see Rep. Gallagher act on it with such energy,” said Ed Ring, CPC’s president. “We’re especially delighted that the state’s school kids have been placed ahead of the interests of consultants, government unions, politicians and Wall Street banking interests.”

“It’s great to see intellectual research and analysis turn into practical improvements in law,” said Dayton.

ABOUT ANALYST KEVIN DAYTON
Kevin Dayton is a policy analyst for the California Policy Center, an influential writer, and the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues on the California Policy Center’s Prosperity Forum and Union Watch, as well as on his own website LaborIssuesSolutions.com. Dayton is a 1992 graduate of Yale University. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

ABOUT THE CALIFORNIA POLICY CENTER
The California Policy Center is a non-partisan public policy think tank providing information that elevates the public dialogue on vital issues facing Californians, with the goal of helping to foster constructive progress towards more equitable and sustainable management of California’s public institutions. Learn more at CaliforniaPolicyCenter.org.

Government Created Energy Blackouts Coming to a City Near You

Most countries around the world think that it’s a good thing to have cheap energy. But in California, we have plenty of cheap energy available, just not the political will to access it.

California depends on natural gas-driven turbines and hydroelectric generators to provide just 38 percent of its oil needs. The state imports 12 percent of its oil from Alaska, and another 50 percent from foreign nations, relying heavily on Canada.

So why are California’s utilities warning of potential rolling blackouts again?

It’s political. And it’s corrupt.

Highest Electricity Rates = Less Power in CA

California’s natural gas shale formation is one of the largest in the world. And, California has been a pioneer in renewable energy, albeit still unreliable and unproven. Yet warnings are already coming that Californians may have rolling blackouts this summer. While California sits on one of the largest known deposits of recoverable oil and gas, production is falling steadily, as the state ignores its vast onshore and offshore deposits, which are fully accessible through conventional and hydraulic fracturing technologies.

This is one reason California electricity costs more than twice the national median –  thanks to a government-created shortage.

Another reason is that the California Public Utilities Commission, the state’s energy “regulator,” has an historic dubious relationship with Wall Street, making promises to keep the profits higher of the state’s publicly held utilities, than utility profits elsewhere. Those profits come out of ratepayers’ pockets. “You’re ego is writing checks you’re body can’t cash,” the famous quote from the movie Top Gun says.

$5 Billion Cover-Up at San Onofre

Another of the problem areas is the California Public Utilities Commission $5 billion cover up and scandal over the 2012 closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, due to the failure of the steam generators. San Diego attorneys Mike Aguirre and Mia Severson exposed the attempt to make the public pay big for utility and regulatory executives’ mistakes at the failed San Onofre nuclear power plant.

20160613-CPC-GrimesSan Onofre could have operated for additional decades
if it weren’t for corruption and mismanagement.

Southern California Edison executives purchased new steam generators from Mitsubishi, but were warned that they were bigger and run hotter, and could fail. SCE executives purchased and installed the generators anyway, knowing of a flaw in the generator design, according to records. Built to last 40 years, the generators at San Onofre failed after 2 years. And, the generators’ cost had not yet been included in rates. So SCE was faced with broken generators they could not charge ratepayers for.

then-PUC President Michael Peevey, and executives of Southern California Edison colluded in secret to saddle ratepayers with $3.3 billion of the $5 billion shutdown cost. The $5 billion recovery settlement was negotiated in secret in Poland, away from prying eyes and open records laws in California.

Blackouts coming…

The state is awash in ultra cheap natural gas, yet in California, our corrupt government finds a way to create an energy shortage, and charge rate payers the highest rates in the country.

“State officials warn that Southern California could face as many as 14 days of scheduled blackouts this summer because of depleted reserves of natural gas caused by the massive leak in Aliso Canyon,” the Los Angeles Times warned in April. The LA Times neglected to mention that California ratepayers do have options, but its politicians have no will. The state sits on one of the largest known deposits of recoverable oil and gas — the Monterey Shale, a 1,700 square mile oil-bearing shale formation primarily in the San Joaquin Valley, which contains an estimated 15 billion barrels of oil. The Times article quoted Bill Powers, of Powers Engineering in San Diego, who said the utility’s pipeline system has not exceeded its capacity of 3.8 billion cubic feet per day during summer in the last 10 years, thus the concern of blackouts is without merit. “It is crying wolf for state agencies to be implying blackouts from a lack of gas, especially from a lack of gas in the summer time,” Powers said.

The Monterey Shale formation is estimated to be several times bigger than the Bakken Shale formation, currently delivering a record economic boom to North Dakota. But even as the fourth-largest oil producing state in the country, oil and gas production has been steadily declining here. Instead, California lawmakers turned their attention to wind and solar, and other types of alternative energy. The state has been only focused on implementing the Renewable Portfolio Standard, passed in 2011, which requires the state to be using 33 percent renewable energy by 2020.

A University of Southern California study, “Powering California: The Monterey Shale & California’s Economic Future,” looked at the development of the vast energy resource beneath the San Joaquin Valley known as the Monterey Shale. It found that hydraulic fracturing could create 512,000 to 2.8 million new jobs, personal income growth of $40.6 billion to $222.3 billion, additional local and state government revenues from $4.5 billion to $24.6 billion, and an increase in state GDP by 2.6 percent to 14.3 percent on a per-person basis.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

California politicians have gloated over being the first state to enact such aggressive green energy and greenhouse gas busting policy, but have yet to produce any proof that these oppressive and business-killing laws have had any “green” results.

All while they ignore that natural gas is clean, less expensive to extract, natural and abundant. It wasn’t that long ago that natural gas used to be the left’s preferred alternative to all other “dirty fuels.” But as the oil and gas industry found better, more affordable ways to access natural gas, it fell out of favor with emotional, whimsical environmentalists.

The last California Governor blamed for rolling energy blackouts was recalled by voters… hold that thought.

Katy Grimes is senior correspondent for The Flash Report, and a contributor to the Canada Free Press and Legal Insurrection. She is a senior media fellow with the Energy & Environmental Legal Institute, and she serves as president of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association.

High Costs of Pro-Union Agreements & Policies Negates Transportation Tax

According to my father, in the 1950s and ’60s, California had the best transportation agency in the entire world. But all that changed with the election of a new, anti-growth, small-is-beautiful governor by the name of Jerry Brown.

Now, fast forward 40 years. Governor Brown, version 2.0, proposes a budget that assumes a big increase in transportation taxes and fees. The California Legislature shouldn’t just say no, it should say hell no.

Where to start? First, let’s take judicial notice of the fact that California is already a high tax state with the highest income tax rate and the highest state sales tax in America. But more relevant for the issue at hand, we also have the highest fuel costs in the nation. This is because of both the 4th highest excise tax on fuel and the fact that refineries are burdened with additional costs to comply with California’s environmental regulations.

 

Despite analysis findings that Caltrans is overstaffed by 3,500 employees,  the California State Auditor & Senator John Moorlach conclude that the agency is both incompetent and inefficient in the maintenance of California’s roads and highways.

 

The high cost to drive in California might be understandable if we were getting value for our tax dollars. But we aren’t. A big problem is that Caltrans is dysfunctional, plain and simple. It has never fully recovered from the days when the agency was effectively destroyed by Gianturco. A report by the California State Auditor just a couple of months ago concluded that a primary responsibility of Caltrans – maintenance of our highways – is not being executed in a manner that is even close to being efficient or competent. Senator John Moorlach, the only CPA currently serving in the California legislature, reacted saying that “This audit reinforces the fact that our bad roads are not a result of a lack of funding. They’re a result of a lack of competence at Caltrans.” Moreover, a report by the Legislative Analyst concluded that Caltrans is overstaffed by 3,500 employees costing California taxpayers over a half billion dollars a year. All this compels the obvious question: Why, for goodness sake, do we want to give these people even more money?

Another unneeded and costly practice consists of project labor agreements for transportation construction projects. These pro-union policies shut out otherwise competent companies from bidding on projects resulting in California taxpayers shelling out as high as 25% more than they should for building highways and bridges.

Finally, California’s environmental requirements are legendary for their inefficiency while also doing little for the environment. Exhibit A in this foolishness is Governor Brown’s incomprehensible pursuit of the ill-fated high speed rail project. Not only has the project failed to live up to any of the promises made to voters, it is currently being kept alive only by virtue of the state’s diversion of “cap and trade” funds which are supposed to be expended on projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But in the Kafkaesque world of California transportation policies, the LAO has concluded that the construction of the HSR project actually produces a net increase in emissions, at least for the foreseeable future.

No one disputes the dire need for improvements in California’s transportation infrastructure. But imposing draconian taxes and higher registration fees that serve only to punish the middle class while wasting billions on projects that don’t help getting Californians get to work or school cannot and should not be tolerated. Legislators who present themselves to voters as fiscally responsible need to understand that a vote for higher transportation taxes will engender a very angry response from their constituents.

About the Author: Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

More Borrowing for California Educational Construction in 2016 (Section 2 of 9)

See the complete California Policy Center report For the Kids: California Voters Must Become Wary of Borrowing Billions More from Wealthy Investors for Educational Construction (complete, printable PDF Version, 4 MB, 361 pages)

Links to all sections of this study readable online:
Executive Summary: “For the Kids” – Comprehensive Review of California School Bonds (1 of 9)
You are here: More Borrowing for California Educational Construction in 2016 (2 of 9)
Quantifying and Explaining California’s Educational Construction Debt (3 of 9)
How California School and College Districts Acquire and Manage Debt (4 of 9)
Capital Appreciation Bonds: Disturbing Repayment Terms (5 of 9)
Tricks of the Trade: Questionable Behavior with Bonds (6 of 9)
The System Is Skewed to Pass Bond Measures (7 of 9)
More Trouble with Bond Finance for Educational Construction (8 of 9)
Improving Oversight, Accountability, and Fiscal Responsibility (9 of 9)
Guide to all Tables and Appendices – Comprehensive Reference for Researchers


Why This Report Matters: More Borrowing in 2016

Californians will be asked in 2016 to continue taking on debt for construction of educational facilities, but one elected official is leery. Governor Jerry Brown wants to change the funding system for school construction. He is concerned about debt that Californians have accumulated from years of allowing the state and local educational districts to relentlessly borrow.

That money borrowed through bond sales will have to be paid back — with interest — to the investors who bought them. Voters have limited understanding of bonds and how bonds provide funds for construction, and elections focus on what voters will get rather than how they will pay for it. To the detriment of future generations, few Californians realize the huge amount educational districts have been authorized to borrow and the huge amount of debt accumulated.

Interest Groups Want Voters to Consider Another State Bond Measure

When the California Policy Center published this report, the California Attorney General had approved circulation of petitions through September 21, 2015 for a proposed statewide ballot initiative entitled the “Kindergarten Through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016.” Professional signature gatherers set up tables at grocery stores and other public locations trying to cajole citizens into signing petitions to “help the kids” by putting the measure on the ballot.

If this proposal qualifies for the ballot and voters approve it, the State of California will have the authority to borrow $9 billion through selling bonds to investors. According to the petition, this $9 billion will ensure that “K-14 facilities are constructed and maintained in safe, secure and peaceful conditions.” As reported in the Sacramento Bee, school construction interests and residential housing developers want this bond measure, or one like it, on the ballot in 2016.

Proponents point out, accurately, that most of the money that voters authorized the state to borrow in 1998, 2002, 2004, and 2006 has been distributed as matching grants to local educational districts. As of April 15, 2015, $195.4 million remains3 from $35.4 billion approved to borrow as a result of three statewide ballot propositions in the 2000s.

The petition for the Kindergarten Through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016 lists four “findings” explaining what the state could do if it borrowed $9 billion:

1. Career technical education facilities to provide job training for many Californians and veterans who face challenges in completing their education and re-entering the workforce.

The history of recent bond measures on the state and local level shows that voters are inclined to support more government spending when veterans are cited as beneficiaries. Poll results confirm this. A “State of California School Bond Measure Feasibility Survey” of likely voters conducted January 30 to February 9, 2014 for California’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing (C.A.S.H.) indicated that “more than six-in-ten are highly concerned about unemployment among veterans.”

2. Upgrade aging facilities to meet current health and safety standards, including retrofitting for earthquake safety and the removal of lead paint, asbestos and other hazardous materials.

Again, the “State of California School Bond Measure Feasibility Survey” concluded that “more than two-thirds agree that many California public schools need significant health and safety improvements,” specifically the statement that “many schools and community colleges throughout California are old, outdated and need upgrades to meet current health and safety standards, including retrofitting for earthquake safety and the removal of lead paint, asbestos and other hazardous materials.”

3. Studies show that 13,000 jobs are created for each $1 billion of state infrastructure investment. These jobs include building and construction trades jobs throughout the state.

Influential construction interests are part of the coalition supporting this statewide bond measure. This statement acknowledges their pivotal role in the campaign to pass it.

4. Academic goals cannot be achieved without 21st Century school facilities designed to provide improved school technology and teaching facilities.

Once again, the “State of California School Bond Measure Feasibility Survey” concludes that “in particular, voters believe that funds must be directed towards upgrading vocational/career education programs, repairing classrooms and science labs and upgrading technology.”

These are deliberately chosen arguments to justify borrowing another $9 billion for community college and K-12 school district construction projects. In fact, these were the same arguments used in newspaper opinion pieces and position papers in 2014 to support Assembly Bill 2235, which if signed into law would have asked state voters in the November 2014 election to authorize borrowing $4.3 billion for school construction through bond sales.

Regardless of whether the four arguments listed above for a statewide bond measure are factually valid, they have been tested through polling and other voter research and shown to be effective in winning voter support. Surely a 2016 campaign for a state bond measure will use them.

How do these arguments stand in the larger context of bond indebtedness for the State of California and its community college districts and K-12 school districts? This report provides some of that context and introduces information never before available to the public.

Governor Brown Worries About Debt and Seeks Change in School Construction Finance

Governor Jerry Brown has used his executive power to thwart legislative efforts to place a statewide bond measure for educational construction on the 2016 ballot. Assembly Bill 2235 never received an opposition vote as it passed the Assembly and moved through Senate committees with support from numerous interest groups. Voters didn’t get to consider it in the November 2014 election only because Governor Brown didn’t want it on the ballot. As reported by a Capitol Public Radio reporter, the bill author issued a statement explaining its abandonment: “The governor has made it clear that he does not want a school bond on the same ballot as the water bond and rainy day fund. We do not expect the legislature to send the bill on him.”

Meanwhile, the Governor is taking a leading role in calling for change in how state and local governments fund California school construction. He submitted a state budget proposal to the California legislature in January 2015 with an introduction stating that funding commitments “must be honestly confronted so that they are properly accounted for and funded.” It warned that “budget challenges over the past decade have also resulted in a greater reliance on debt financing, rather than pay-as-you-go spending…From 1974 to 1999, California voters authorized $38.4 billion of general obligation bonds. Since 2000, voters authorized more than $103.2 billion of general obligation bonds”

Table 1: All General Obligation Bonds to Be Paid Off Through
California’s General Fund
Amount Authorized to Borrow$135.2 billion
Amount Borrowed$105.7 billion
Amount Authorized But Not Borrowed$29.5 billion
Amount Owed in Principal (June 1, 2015)$72.4 billion
Amount of Debt Service Owed (June 1, 2015)$131.8 billion
Amount of Debt Service to Be Paid 2015-2016$6 billion
Sources: “Schedule of Debt Service Requirements for General Fund Non-Self Liquidating Bonds (Fixed Rate),” California State Treasurer, June 1, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.treasurer.ca.gov/bonds/debt/201506/general-fixed.pdf and “Authorized and Outstanding General Obligation Bonds,” California State Treasurer, June 1, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.treasurer.ca.gov/bonds/debt/201506/authorized.pdf

Concern About Debt Growing from State Matching Grants for Local Educational Districts

One funding commitment Governor Brown “confronted” in his proposed fiscal year 2015-16 budget was the State of California’s debt accumulated from funding construction of facilities for local school districts. California voters approved bond measures in 2002, 2004, and 2006 authorizing the state to borrow $35.4 billion via bond sales for school and college construction, and only $195 million remains to be borrowed. According to internal California State Treasurer documents, debt service on those three state bond measures is $56.7 billion.

According to the Governor’s 2015-16 Budget Summary, “the Administration has noted the following significant shortcomings” related to school bond finance over the past two years:

The current program does not compel districts to consider facilities funding within the context of other educational costs and priorities. For example, districts can generate and retain state facility program eligibility based on outdated or inconsistent enrollment projections. This often results in financial incentives for districts to build new schools to accommodate what is actually modest and absorbable enrollment growth. These incentives are exacerbated by the fact that general obligation bond debt is funded outside of Proposition 98. These bonds cost the General Fund approximately $2.4 billion in debt service annually.

This statement is surprising and controversial recognition that some school districts spend money on new school construction that perhaps isn’t needed. The proposed budget summary also notes that large school districts have in-house professional facilities departments that can take advantage of the first-come, first-serve application system to get funding from the State Allocation Board for local school construction.

Another surprising admission in the Governor’s budget proposal is acknowledgement that voters approve four out of five proposed local bond measures, thus providing a relatively easy flow of money for school construction: “The current program was developed before the passage of Proposition 39 (which reduced the local bond vote threshold from a two-thirds supermajority to 55 percent) in 2000, which has since allowed local school bonds to pass upwards of 80 percent of the time.”

The budget summary also reported that the California Department of Finance had met with parties interested in educational construction and developed a set of recommendations, including three related to bond finance:

1. Increase Tools for Local Control: Expand Local Funding Capacity

While school districts can pass local bonds with 55% percent approval, assessed valuation caps for specific bond measures and total caps on local bonded indebtedness have not been adjusted since 2000. In order to provide greater access to local financing, these caps should be increased at minimum by the rate of inflation since 2000.

Based on the Consumer Price Index of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the inflation rate from November 2000 (when voters approved Proposition 39) to May 2015 was 36.6%. Therefore, under this proposal the California legislature would increase tax and debt limits at least 36.6% above existing amounts. However, the flaw in this proposal is that it does not account for increases in property value or total assessed property valuation in California since 2000. (See Section 5 of this report for background on tax and debt limits.)

2. Expand Allowable Uses of Routine Restricted Maintenance Funding

Current law requires schools to deposit a percentage of their general fund expenditures into a restricted account for use in maintaining their facilities. Rather than requiring that these funds be used solely for routine maintenance, districts should have the ability to pool these funds over multiple years for modernization and new construction projects. Expanding the use of these funds will provide school districts with yet another funding stream to maintain, modernize, and construct new facilities.

This proposal injects a bit of “pay-as-you-go” from district general funds into educational facilities construction — a departure from the bond debt financing that has driven school construction since the enactment of Senate Bill 50, the Leroy F. Greene School Facilities Act of 1998.

3. Target State Funding for Districts Most in Need

State funding for a new program should be targeted in a way that: (1) limits eligibility to districts with such low per-student assessed value they cannot issue bonds at the local level in amounts that allow them to meet student needs, (2) prioritizes funding for health and safety and severe overcrowding projects, and (3) establishes a sliding scale to determine the state share of project costs based on local capacity to finance projects.

This recommendation is based on the perception that the current first-come, first-served funding system allows certain school and college districts to win a disproportionate amount of state matching grants at the expense of other districts that may have a more legitimate need but lack the resources and wherewithal to take advantage of opportunities.

Finally, the list of recommendations concludes with a message:

…it is the intent of the Administration to advance the dialogue on the future of school facilities funding. School districts and developers should have a clear understanding of which limited circumstances will qualify for state assistance. Over the course of the coming months, the Administration is prepared to engage with the Legislature and education stakeholders to shape a future state program that is focused on districts with the greatest need, while providing substantial new flexibility for local districts to raise the necessary resources for school facilities needs.

These proposals are not new ideas. A 2003 report from the Public Policy Institute of California analyzed school bond measures and identified disparities among districts based on wealth and region. In response to these findings, the report suggested raising state debt limits for bond measures to reduce the impact of changes in assessed property valuation. It also recommended adoption of a plan that would give deserving school and college districts access to state construction funds without having to match these grants with local funding.

State Legislative Initiatives

The stage is set for change in California school construction financing. Subsequent to the release of the proposed budget from the Governor, state legislators introduced bills such as Senate Bill 114 and Assembly Bill 148. These bills would make some mild changes to the state’s school construction program, while at the same time placing a statewide bond measure on the November 2016 ballot to borrow money (for a yet unidentified amount) via bond sales for school construction.

The author of Senate Bill 114 explained the purpose of the bill:

Funding for the School Facilities Program is virtually gone and there is a backlog in applications for state assistance…while the state’s growing debt service is of concern, it is unclear whether local districts have the capacity to generate sufficient revenue at the local level to meet their specific facility needs. The “winding down” of the current program, and the Governor’s call for change, present an opportunity to rethink the administrative and programmatic structure of the State Facilities Program…

Supporting one or both of these bills are the California School Boards Association, the California Faculty Association, the California Association of School Business Officials, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees union (AFSCME); the Los Angeles Unified School District, and the Riverside County Superintendent of Schools. Further debate will reveal if these groups are willing to withhold potential objections to some of the Department of Finance proposed changes to educational construction finance in exchange for having another statewide bond measure on the 2016 Presidential general election ballot.

No formal opposition to these bills has yet emerged, but at this time the bills are just a frame, to be expanded with more detailed proposals.

Sources

“Request for Title and Summary for Proposed Initiative: Kindergarten Through Community College Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016,” Office of the California Attorney General, January 12, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, https://oag.ca.gov/system/files/initiatives/pdfs/15-0005%20(Education%20Bond%20Act).pdf

“California School Builders, Others to Gather Signatures for November 2016 Bond Measure,” Sacramento Bee, January 12, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article6143364.html

“AB 148 School Facilities: K–14 School Investment Bond Act of 2016 – California State Assembly Education Committee Analysis,” California Legislative Information, April 28, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billAnalysisClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160AB148#

“State of California School Bond Measure Feasibility Survey,” California’s Coalition for Adequate School Housing, Date, accessed June 28, 2015, https://www.cashnet.org/meetings/2014_Annual_Conference/documents/38_LegislativeUpdate_Bond_Feasibility.pdf

“Text – AB 2235 Education Facilities: Kindergarten-University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2014,” California Legislative Information, accessed June 28, 2015, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201320140AB2235

“No School Bond, Lawmaker Suspension Measures On November Ballot,” Capitol Public Radio, August 19, 2014, accessed June 28, 2015, www.capradio.org/articles/2014/08/19/no-school-bond,-lawmaker-suspension-measures-on-november-ballot/

“2015-16 Governor’s Budget Summary,” Department of Finance – California Budget, January 9, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.ebudget.ca.gov/2015-16/pdf/BudgetSummary/FullBudgetSummary.pdf

“2015 California’s Five-Year Infrastructure Plan,” Department of Finance – California Budget, January 9, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.ebudget.ca.gov/2015-Infrastructure-Plan.pdf

“Governor’s Budget Summary 2015-16: K Thru 12 Education,” Department of Finance – California Budget, January 9, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, www.ebudget.ca.gov/2015-16/pdf/BudgetSummary/Kthru12Education.pdf

“SB 50 – Chaptered. Leroy F. Greene School Facilities Act of 1998: Class Size Reduction – Kindergarten University Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 1998,” Official California Legislative Information, August 27, 1998, accessed June 28, 2015, www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/97-98/bill/sen/sb_0001-0050/sb_50_bill_19980827_chaptered.html

“Fiscal Effects of Voter Approval Requirements on Local Governments,” Public Policy Institute of California, January 27, 2003, accessed June 28, 2015, www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_103KRR.pdf

“Text – SB 114 Education Facilities: Kindergarten Through Grade 12 Public Education Facilities Bond Act of 2016,” California Legislative Information, June 3, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB114&search_keywords=

“Text – AB 148 School Facilities: K–14 School Investment Bond Act of 2016,” California Legislative Information, May 6, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB114&search_keywords=

“Senate Education Committee Legislative Analysis – AB 148 School Facilities: K–14 School Investment Bond Act of 2016,” California Legislative Information, March 25, 2015, accessed June 28, 2015, http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billAnalysisClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB114#

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Split Roll and the Bottomless Hole

A union-led initiative wants to eliminate Prop. 13 benefits for businesses.

California’s Prop. 13, wildly popular on both sides of the political aisle, is under siege by unions. Using the Orwellian name “Make It Fair,” a coalition led by the California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, SEIU and their friends has decided that they can milk businesses to the tune of $9 billion a year via a new ballot initiative.

As Dan Walters explains, “Proposition 13 limits property taxes on all forms of property to 1 percent of value, plus what’s needed to retire bonds and other debts, and limits increases in value to no more than 2 percent a year, except when properties change hands. Newly constructed homes and commercial buildings are placed on the tax roll at their initial values, but are protected by the limits thereafter.”

While it is true that there are a few loopholes which probably should be addressed on the commercial side of Prop. 13, the promoters of the so-called split roll initiative are using that as an excuse to essentially gut the tax protections for businesses. It is tantamount to owning a smooth-running automobile with an oil leak and being told you should ditch the car. To that end, Jon Coupal and Robert Lapsley joined together in 2014 to sponsor a reform bill that would have eliminated the loopholes. They explain,

AB 2371 was authored by the chair of the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee, Raul Bocanegra, and San Francisco-area Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and supported by a broad coalition of business and taxpayer organizations. Most importantly, we also had the support of the California Tax Reform Association (who is pursuing the split roll initiative) as it passed overwhelmingly off the Assembly floor.

But then a strange thing happened on the way to the Senate. The California Tax Reform Association suddenly flip-flopped and withdrew its support in the Senate, saying that AB 2371 was not real reform after all. Why? Because they realized that taking care of a potential problem would actually create a bigger problem for their political agenda to pass a split roll initiative next year. The California Tax Reform Association and other groups want to preserve the ‘loophole’ issue as one of their key messages in the 2016 campaign.

The unions would have us think that the state of California doesn’t receive its fair share of taxes. Of course nothing could be further from the truth, and most of us who pay them as residents and property owners in Taxifornia know it. As San Diego tax fighter Richard Rider informs us:

CA now has by far the nation’s highest state income tax rate. We are 21% higher than 2nd place Hawaii, 34% higher than Oregon, and a heck of a lot higher than all the rest – including 7 states with zero state income tax – and 2 more that tax only dividends and interest income.

CA is so bad, we also have the 2nd highest state income tax bracket. AND the 3rd.  Plus the 5th and 8th.

CA has the highest state sales tax rate in the nation. 7.5% (does not include local sales taxes). Two new 2015 bills seek a combined $10 billion++ CA state and local sales tax increase. At least one will likely pass.                          

CA has the nation’s 2nd highest gas tax at 63.8 cents/gallon (Jan., 2015). Add in the new 10-15 cent CA “cap and trade” cost and CA is easily #1. National average is 48.3 cents. Yet CA has the 6th worst highways.

CA in 2014 ranked 17th highest in per capita property taxes (including commercial) – the only major tax where we are not in the worst ten states. But the median CA property tax per owner-occupied home was the 10th highest in the nation in 2009 (latest year available).

That the teachers unions are promoting another tax raise at this time is especially galling. Due at least in part to the union-orchestrated Prop. 30 in 2012, Governor Jerry Brown has just announced a revised budget which will see billions headed for schools over the next few years, including $3.1 billion for the current year and $2.7 billion for next year. K-12 education funding will increase $3,000 per pupil – a 45 percent boost – over 2011-12 levels.

But is it possible that the unions will be affected by their own proposition? As Mike Antonucci points out, it isn’t clear if they will be exempt from the provisions in the initiative. CTA’s building in Burlingame is assessed at $22 million and its 2014 tax liability was $265,000 or about the same 1.2 percent rate my wife and I pay for our home in Los Angeles. CTA’s and other unions’ tax bills could increase considerably if the prop flies. So it would hardly be a surprise if they tried to carve out an exemption for themselves. (Please keep in mind that that at the same time CTA is trying to stick it to tax-weary Californians, it brings in about $185 million a year in forced dues and pays not a penny in state and federal income tax.)

However, even if CTA and other public employee unions are not exempted, they may figure that they will still make out because that extra $9 billion will enable the state to hire busloads of new employees, all of whom will be forced to pay the unions if they want to work. In short, it will be an investment with a great ROI.

If successful, what are the ramifications of this initiative for California? The Orange County Register points to a March 2012 study from the Pepperdine University School of Public Policy’s Davenport Institute. It found that “adopting such a ‘split-roll’ property tax would result in a loss of nearly 400,000 jobs and $72 billion in economic activity in the first five years.”

Grim news for Californians. However, Texans are grinning ear-to-ear, baking cookies and ordering evermore welcome mats.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

Bad Week for Teachers Unions

These days, the teachers unions have landed on the wrong side of judges, teachers, the general public and just about everyone else whose lives they touch.

Seems like the teachers unions are getting it from all sides these days. In a Wall Street Journal piece, the writers note that the percentage of elementary and secondary teachers who are union members is down about 20 percent since 1988. But as private and charter schools proliferate and the right-to-work movement grows, the last 26 years will look like the good old days.

Big Apple Kerfuffle

In response to the death of Eric Garner while in New York Police Department custody, United Federation of Teachers command central decided to join forces with Al Sharpton in blaming the police. However, New York City teachers responded by giving UFT president Michael Mulgrew a one-finger salute, and on the first day of school last week teachers all over the city wore pro-cop T-shirts. This independent streak was way over the top for Boss Mulgrew, whose union emailed a brief warning, “…as public employees, one must remain objective at all times.”

Teachers union members remain objective?!! WHAT!!! This followed UFT’s sponsorship of an Al Sharpton rally in support of Mike Brown, who died while in police custody in Ferguson, MO.

Now, how teachers should respond to non-education-related community events is a discussion for another day; the issue here is the union’s hypocrisy. But then again, Mulgrew has always shot from the hip … and as often as not, the bullet has wound up piercing his shoe. Most recently, despite teacher misgivings with Common Core, the union president decided that the standards were worthy. And at the American Federation of Teachers convention last month, in classic thug style, he closed with these pearls,

If someone takes something from me, I’m going to grab it right back out of their cold, twisted, sick hands and say it is mine! You do not take what is mine! And I’m going to punch you in the face and push you in the dirt because this is the teachers! These are our tools and you sick people need to deal with us and the children that we teach. Thank you very much!

If they ever decide to recast Goodfellas, Mulgrew is a shoo-in for the Joe Pesci role. (Extreme profanity alert.)

Michigan Shenanigans

After Michigan went right-to-work in 2012, the Michigan Education Association decided to play hardball. Most teachers didn’t know that the only period they could resign from the union was when most of them weren’t paying attention to school or union matters – in August. Some teachers sent in their resignation notice before the union-mandated allotted time and thought they’d legitimately opted out and stopped paying dues. However, they were soon faced with threats that unless they paid up, the union would do its best to damage their credit ratings. But the Mackinac Center Legal Foundation took the teachers’ side and brought suit against the union. Then, just last Tuesday administrative law judge Julia Stern recommended that the “ Employment Relations Commission order the Michigan Education Association to no longer limit school employees to leaving the union solely in August of each year. She said the law that took effect last year incorporated a federal law interpreted to give public employees the ability to leave their union anytime.”

Furious with the decision, the union went into spin-mode to divert attention from it, triumphantly pointing to the fact that only 5,000 teachers (out of 110,000 total) had resigned during the August window. But as Mike Antonucci notes, the bigger picture is not so rosy. “In 2008-09, the union had 129,000 active members. The latest loss brings that number down to 106,000 – a drop of almost 18 percent.” Also, as more contracts expire, more teachers will have the opportunity to disengage from the union. Additionally, as teachers see that the world of their non-unionized colleagues does not come to an end without Big Daddy, many will realize that the $1,000+ dues they pay on a yearly basis could be much better spent elsewhere.

Sophistry Vergara

Hardly a surprise, but immediately following Judge Rolf Treu’s final decision in the Vergara case, which affirmed his original one, the California Teachers Association, the California Federation of Teachers and Governor Jerry Brown (under pressure from his biggest political backers – the unions) filed an appeal. In a dual release, the unions trotted out the usual off-subject malarkey in an attempt to convince people of the evil intent of the suit.

All along it’s been clear to us that this lawsuit is baseless, meritless, and masterminded by self-interested individuals with corporate education reform agendas that are veiled by a proclamation of student interest.

The Vergara ruling makes clear that Judge Treu failed to engage the evidence presented in court by education experts and school superintendents who testified that teacher rights are not impediments to well-run schools and districts.

He also failed to take into account the impact of underfunding, poverty, growing inequality, and lack of decent jobs in the communities surrounding our schools….

… this ruling doesn’t address any of the real solutions to problems facing public education, solutions such as adequate funding, peer assistance and review programs for struggling teachers, and lower class sizes.

Blah, blah, blah.

While this kind of union spin has traditionally been successful, the general public at long last has become hip to it. In an Education Next  poll released in August concerning the issue of tenure – a major part of the Vergara suit,

… Survey respondents favor ending tenure by a 2-to-1 ratio. By about the same ratio, the public also thinks that if tenure is awarded, it should be based in part on how well the teacher’s students perform in the classroom. Only 9% of the public agrees with current practice in most states, the policy of granting teachers tenure without taking student performance into account.

Fair Share Flim-Flam Fades

Every year around Labor Day, Gallup polls Americans on their attitudes toward labor unions. This year a question was added about right-to-work laws, and the responses were not good news for the forced-union crowd. As Mike Antonucci writes,

The poll finds 82% of Americans agreeing that ‘no American should be required to join any private organization, like a labor union, against his will,’ a position advanced by right-to-work proponents. Pro-union forces partly oppose right-to-work laws because of the ‘free-rider’ problem, with non-union workers benefitting as much as union workers when unions negotiate pay and benefit increases with employers. But by 64% to 32%, Americans disagree that workers should ‘have to join and pay dues to give the union financial support’ because ‘all workers share the gains won by the labor union.’

The teachers unions are starting to remind me of a man at sea flailing away for help, but the courts, the general public and even many of their own members are not not throwing out a life raft. Perhaps Mr. Mulgrew needs to start breaking some legs. Nothing else seems to be working.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Brown, Unions, Already Discuss Renewing Prop. 30 Taxes Beyond 2018

Once again it is time for taxpayers to get a good grip on their wallets because Sacramento politicians are looking to extend the “temporary” taxes imposed by Proposition 30, approved by voters less than two years ago.

There is nothing more permanent than a temporary tax. They are as immortal as a vampire and nearly as hard to kill. Take the “temporary” tax imposed in 1898 to pay for the Spanish-American War. It remained on the books until 2006 when Congress discovered that the Spanish-American War ended a century earlier.

More recently and more relevant to Californians, two decades ago the political establishment — both Republicans and Democrats — backed a 1¼% increase in the state sales tax, a half cent of which was supposed to be temporary. (The tax increase was justified, in part, on the argument that the higher taxes were less pernicious than deficit spending. But this tax package just institutionalized even greater spending and debt.) At the time, to quell opposition, Sacramento politicians went out of their way to draw public attention to the temporary nature of the half cent increase. But within a year of its expiring, it was reinstated and made permanent through a ballot measure whose passage backers claimed was absolutely essential to maintain local public safety services.

In 2012, Gov. Jerry Brown and his government employee union allies backing Proposition 30 promised the tax increases would be temporary, that the sales tax increase would expire in 2016 and the income tax increase on upper-middle income earners, and above, would expire in 2018. But the politicians, who have been lying in the weeds waiting until closer to the expiration date to spring an extension of the tax increases on unwary taxpayers, are already tipping their hand.

In January, state schools chief Tom Torlakson called for an extension of Proposition 30 beyond its full expiration in 2018. “We need to renew Prop. 30,” the Superintendent of Public Instruction told a meeting of PTA leaders.

Now state Sen. Mark Leno has spoken up, telling an education rally at San Francisco City Hall it’s time to start thinking about the need to extend the Proposition 30 tax increases. One of the reasons Leno opposes the governor’s effort to establish a prudent budget reserve is that such a “rainy day fund” would make it harder to justify a continuation of higher taxes on sales and incomes.

While it is common to question the veracity of politicians, in this case, it would be wise to accept these Sacramento leaders’ comments as genuine expressions of their greed for ever greater amounts of taxpayer dollars

Gov. Brown, to his credit, has urged majority Democrats in the Legislature to make due with current revenues and keep faith with the voters by letting the taxes expire on schedule. But even this responsible approach, a reflection of his minimalist approach in his first two terms, may not help taxpayers much as we approach 2018, the year, that even if he is reelected, Brown will end his final term.

Meanwhile, the Sacramento politicians are salivating over the prospect of new and extended taxes. “Shoot for the moon,” Sen. Leno told a reporter. “We might not get there, but that’s where we have to start.”

However, Leno and his colleagues are not shooting for the moon, they are shooting for taxpayers’ wallets.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Unions Virtually Alone in Love with California High-Speed Rail

Even close observers of the California High-Speed Rail Authority have struggled to track developments for the state’s planned bullet train. The debacle began in November 2008, when 52.7% of California voters approved Proposition 1A and triggered serious planning for what could be the most expensive construction project in human history. With that kind of money at stake, unions were obviously inspired to be part of this boondoggle.

Kings County Says No to CaHSRThe California High-Speed Rail Authority has become justly notorious for backroom deals, secretive administrative actions, and lack of transparency. But most Californians are at least vaguely aware that the project has been mismanaged and misrepresented.

Proposition 1A – placed on the ballot by the California State Legislature – authorized the State of California to borrow $9.95 billion to begin design and construction of a $45 billion complete high-speed rail system linking San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento. Including interest payments, the Proposition 1A commitment was estimated to be $19.4 billion to $23.2 billion for bonds to be paid back over 30 years. According to Proposition 1A, that money borrowed by the state was supposed to be supplemented with significant funding from the federal government, private investors, and municipal governments.

Proposition 1A also promised that the bullet train would be able to travel non-stop from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours, 40 minutes. Presumably many Californians who voted for it – including the 78.4% of San Francisco voters who approved it – imagined a fast train speeding between two world-class cities along the median of Interstate 5. They were wrong.

Here’s the current appalling status of California High-Speed Rail:

1. The California High-Speed Rail Authority has spent $587 million on consultants as of September 30, 2013. The California State Treasurer has sold at least $703 million worth of bonds (Buy America Bonds and perhaps others) for California High-Speed Rail as of May 13, 2013.

2. The estimated cost has been dramatically revised. Instead of being $45 billion for the entire system, it is now $68 billion just for the line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, and the high-speed rail will be “blended” with other commuter rail lines at the beginning and end of the route. One group has estimated that the entire system may exceed $200 billion if bond interest is included and the federal government does not provide additional grants.

3. The California State Treasurer cannot sell the Proposition 1A state bonds because a judge determined in November 2013 that the California High-Speed Rail Authority failed to comply with the law. While the California High-Speed Rail Authority has already obtained $2,942,000,000 from the federal government, possibly under false pretenses of a commitment to matching funds, the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives is intent on stopping further grants until the Authority gets its act together. No private investors have emerged – corporations want to GET money from the Authority through contracts, not give it money to be squandered. Cities in the San Joaquin Valley where the line will be built first have no money to invest in it – Fresno is nearly bankrupt.

4. Governor Jerry Brown desperately included $250 million in his 2014-15 budget for California High-Speed Rail to be obtained from “Cap and Trade” allowances paid by emitters of greenhouse gases as part of the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 (Assembly Bill 32 or AB 32). But the project is expected to increase greenhouse gas emissions during four years of initial construction. The Authority claims it will earn the Cap and Trade funds because offsets from its tree planting program (as well as other activities such as “cleaner school buses and water pumps in Central Valley communities”) will allow it to produce “zero net emissions.”

5. With the “blended” plan, there are serious challenges to achieving the 2 hour 40 minute travel time required in law. An analysis claiming that the time can be met includes the train going over the Tehachapi mountain range (north of Los Angeles) at 150+ miles per hour. There is idle talk about digging a long tunnel for the bullet train through the seismically-active San Gabriel Mountains from Palmdale to Los Angeles, but this is probably to lull citizens of Santa Clarita into believing the rail won’t go through their town.

6. To the surprise and confusion of hipster high-speed rail supporters in San Francisco and Los Angeles, this bullet train will be a local, with stops at least in Merced, Fresno, Hanford or Visalia, Bakersfield, and Palmdale. In June 2013, the Authority awarded a $970 million contract (with provisions for an additional $55 million) to Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons (a joint venture) to design and build the first 29-miles of the high-speed rail between Madera and Fresno by February 2018. People are supposed to be able to ride the high-speed rail between Merced and Palmdale by 2022.

7. The California High-Speed Rail Authority erred by awarding the first design-build contract for a 29-mile stretch that includes 25 miles in one segment assigned for environmental review (Merced to Fresno) and four miles in another segment assigned for a different environmental review (Fresno to Bakersfield). While it received full environmental clearance for the 25-mile stretch, it has not received clearance for the 4-mile stretch. In December 2013, the federal Surface Transportation Board rejected a secretive request from the Authority for an exemption to environmental review. If it can’t get the federal exemption, the Authority’s design-build contract is in jeopardy.

8. Owners of 370 parcels that the California High-Speed Rail Authority needs for the first 29-mile stretch are apparently resisting or holding out on selling their property. At last report in mid-December, the Authority had allegedly closed escrow on five parcels. The Authority has now received authorization from the California Public Works Board to possess two parcels through eminent domain.

Based on these eight points alone, who would still be eager to proceed with this project besides Governor Jerry Brown, the corporations seeking contracts, and a scattering of citizens committed to various leftist causes related to urban planning and environmentalism? Unions.

Union supporters at California High-Speed Rail Congressional field hearing in Madera on May 31, 2013.

Union supporters at California High-Speed Rail Congressional field hearing in Madera on May 31, 2013.

In a backroom deal, without any public deliberation or vote, the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority negotiated and executed a Project Labor Agreement (called a “Community Benefit Agreement”) with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California. This agreement gives unions a monopoly on construction trade work and certain construction-related professional services.

In a January 16, 2013 email about the Project Labor Agreement to the former chairman of Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission, the Small Business Advocate of the California High Speed Rail Authority stated the following:

The Community Benefits Agreemeent (CBA) is an internal administrative document that was not necessarily intended to be circulated for public comment, however, that doesn’t mean you cannot provide me your input. The document was added to Construction Package #1 and Addendum 8 and I’ve attached it herein for your convenience. It includes regulatory compliance and is being reviewed by the Federal Rail (sic) Administration.

There is no evidence available to show that the Federal Railroad Administration approved the Project Labor Agreement, as required by law. But the final version of the agreement was signed in August 2013. No board member or administrator of the California High-Speed Rail Authority has commented in a public meeting about the agreement that will give unions control of most of the claimed 100,000 job-years of employment over a five-year period.

When State Senator Andy Vidak, with Congressman David Valadao, held a press conference critical of California High-Speed Rail on January 17, 2014 at the site of the eventually-to-be-demolished Fresno Rescue Mission, there were protesters: construction union leaders, lobbyists, public relations officials, and activists. The Fresno Bee reported this about the press conference:

In a news release prior to the announcement, Vidak indicated that his goal is to kill the bullet train. He tempered his in-person remarks, however, as he faced a crowd that included both high-speed rail critics from his home area in Kings County and a couple dozen representatives of labor unions who support the project…Rail supporters, some clad in hard hats and safety vests, booed Vidak as they wielded their own signs proclaiming high-speed rail as “good for the local economy, good for air quality and good for jobs.”

The Fresno Business Journal reported this about the press conference:

Dillon Savory, an advocate representing several local unions, commented after the event that high-speed rail would not only provide needed jobs, but it would help improve the Valley’s air, which has been heavily polluted this winter. Also, the cost of roadwork in the area is about double the cost of high-speed rail, making road construction less cost effective, Savory said. Savory criticized the anti-high-speed rail forced for trying to pit rail against water. He said the greater issue is putting people back to work with decent paying jobs. He said many union workers are only finding temporary work for about two weeks at a time. That is not putting food on the table, he said.

In 2013, Savory was the manager for the successful union-backed campaign to defeat a ballot measure (Measure G) supported by the Mayor of Fresno that would have allowed the city to outsource garbage collection. The political professionals are getting involved.

When the groundbreaking ceremony occurs for California High-Speed Rail, perhaps in an abandoned Madera County cornfield seized through eminent domain by the Authority, expect thousands of construction union workers to be bused in to block and neutralize any protesters. Governor Brown cannot suffer any more embarrassment over this boondoggle and debacle.

Bullet train path through Kings County farmland.

Bullet train path through Kings County farmland.

Sources

California Streets and Highway Code Section 2704.09 (implemented by California voters in November 2008 as Proposition 1A, as authorized by Assembly Bill 3034 (Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century)

Top-40 Donors to Campaign to Convince California Voters to Borrow $10 Billion to Start Building High-Speed Rail

Election Results by County: Proposition 1A (2008)

May 7, 2008 Senate Appropriations Committee legislative analysis for Assembly Bill 3034 (source of estimated costs of bonds, including interest payments)

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) High Speed Rail Awards

July 2012 – California’s High-Speed Rail Realities: Briefly Assessing the Project’s Construction Cost, Debt Prospects, and Funding (“The Realistic – No Additional Federal Funding scenario results in a total debt burden of $203 billion between 201 3 and 2058.”)

February 11, 2013 California High-Speed Rail Authority memo “Phase 1 Blended Travel Time”

A Preliminary Timeline of Activity Concerning What Will Be $9.95 Billion Borrowed through Proposition 1A Bond Sales for California High-Speed Rail

June 2013 – Contribution of the High-Speed Rail Program to Reducing California’s Greenhouse Gas Emission Levels (includes “plans to plant thousands of new trees across the Central Valley” and “cleaner school buses and water pumps in Central Valley communities”)

November 15, 2013 – Project Update Report to the California State Legislature (source of report that $587 million was spent on consultants)

November 25, 2013 California High Speed Rail Authority Bond Validation Lawsuit Ruling

November 25, 2013 – Tos Fukuda Kings County v California High-Speed Rail Prop 1A Part 1 Ruling

November 25, 2013 Tos Fukuda Kings County v California High-Speed Rail Prop 1A Part 2 Ruling

California High-Speed Rail – Fresno to Bakersfield Surface Transportation Board Exemption Letters

Project Labor Agreement (Community Benefits Agreement) for California High-Speed Rail – Addendum 8 in Bid Specifications – December 26, 2012

Project Labor Agreement (Community Benefits Agreement) for California High-Speed Rail – Final – August 13, 2013

February 27, 2013 Fresno County Economic Opportunities Commission Chairman Wonders Why No Input Into California High-Speed Rail Authority Project Labor Agreement

Vidak Rails Against Bullet-Train Plan, Met by Bipartisan Crowd at Fresno EventFresno Bee – January 17, 2014

Vidak Calls for High-Speed Rail RevoteFresno Business Journal – January 17, 2014

California High-Speed Rail Scam

Past Articles in www.UnionWatch.org on Unions and California High-Speed Rail

Unions Creep Closer to Monopolizing California High-Speed Rail Construction – December 6, 2012

Watch Union Official’s Rude Antics at California High-Speed Rail Conference – January 15, 2013

Unions Await Fantastic Return on High-Speed Rail Political Investments – January 22, 2013

Exposing the Plot Behind Project Labor Agreement for California Bullet Train – April 30, 2013

Unions Defend California High-Speed Rail Project at Congressional Hearing – June 4, 2013

California Construction Unions Circumvent Public Scrutiny of Project Labor Agreements – September 17, 2013

 


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

 

Transitional Kindergarten: A Boondoggle by any other name….

CA announces a budget surplus — and legislators can’t wait to blow it.

It’s hardly surprising, but California’s we-never-met-a-big-budget-bill-we-didn’t-like Democratic lawmakers and State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson have joined hands to sponsor SB 837, new legislation that would provide free public preschool to every four-year-old child in California.

The Kindergarten Readiness Act of 2014, introduced by Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and co-sponsored by Torlakson and Early Edge California, will expand access to transitional kindergarten programs to all four year old children, no matter when their birthday. Currently, children with birthdays early in the year are excluded.

“It’s impossible to overstate how important these early years are to a child’s future success in school,” Torlakson said in a press release. “Transitional kindergarten—particularly a full-year, full-day program—can make all the difference, especially for families who may be struggling to give their young children these valuable learning opportunities.”

According to the proposal, 46,000 four-year-olds would be added each year for the first five years of the program, which will cost a total of $990 million by 2019-20.

This bill is an upgrade to SB 1381, which the legislature passed in 2010. 

California’s current transitional kindergarten program applies to 4-year-olds who turn 5 in October, November or December. That age group was affected by the 2010 bill, which requires children to turn 5 by Sept. 1, instead of Dec. 2, to attend kindergarten. The state began phasing in the program, one month a year, in 2012-13.

Needless to say, the California Teachers Association is on board with this (and any) bill that adds thousands of new dues-paying jobs to help replenish its sagging coffers. In fact, SB 837 would create 8,000 teaching positions for class sizes of 20 children or fewer.  (CTA president Dean Vogel was not very happy with the earlier bill because unlike SB 837, it let individual districts decide whether or not to offer TK.)

Interestingly, the people of CA already weighed in on the subject back in 2006 when over 60 percent of the voters resoundingly clobbered Prop. 82 – a tax-the-rich scheme proposed by actor/activist Rob (Meathead) Reiner – which would have enabled four year-olds across the state to attend taxpayer supported preschool. But the Sages of Sacto have turned a blind eye to the will of the people since then.

What do we really know about Transitional Kindergarten (TK)?

TK, Pre-K and Head Start are different names for programs that accomplish little more than adding unionized teaching and educational support jobs to the state’s payroll. Oh, sure, the sales pitch sounds great. As Steinberg says, “Expanding transitional kindergarten can be accomplished with just a fraction of increased Proposition 98 funds while saving billions of dollars in the long run by reducing the extra costs of special education, grade retention and juvenile crime.”

Steinberg’s cheerleading notwithstanding, early childhood education has never proven to have lasting results. Obviously, due to its newness, there are no longitudinal studies specifically for TK. But we sure know about Head Start, which would seem to be TK by another name. The results of the third and final phase of the federal government’s Head Start study were released in December 2012, and they matched those of the second phase of the study published in 2010. They revealed that basically the federal program has been a $180 billion (and counting) boondoggle. Lesli Maxwell in Education Week explains,

In the first phase of the evaluation, a group of children who entered Head Start at age 4 saw benefits from spending one year in the program, including learning vocabulary, letter-word recognition, spelling, color identification, and letter-naming, compared with children of the same age in a control group who didn’t attend Head Start. For children who entered Head Start at age 3, the gains were even greater, demonstrated by their language and literacy skills, as well their skills in learning math, prewriting, and perceptual motor skills.

The second phase of the study showed that those gains had faded considerably by the end of 1st grade, with Head Start children showing an edge only in learning vocabulary over their peers in the control group who had not participated in Head Start.

And now, in this final phase of the study, “there was little evidence of systematic differences in children’s elementary school experiences through 3rd grade, between children provided access to Head Start and their counterparts in the control group,” the researchers wrote in an executive summary. (Emphasis added.)

After the second phase results came out, Reason Foundation’s Lisa Snell blogged,

The just-released large-scale random assignment study of Head Start confirms once again that the $7 billion a year federal preschool program provides meager benefits to children at huge costs to taxpayers.

In other words, it’s a very expensive and wasteful federal babysitting program. The Heritage Foundation’s Lindsey Burke elaborates:

… This federal evaluation, which effectively shows no lasting impact on children after first grade and no difference between those children who attended Head Start and those who did not, should call into question the merits of increasing funding for the program, which the Obama administration recently did as part of the so-called “stimulus” bill.

In a rare moment of candor, the mainstream media joined the naysayers, Time Magazine’s Joe Klein weighed in,

You take the million or so poorest 3- and 4-year-old children and give them a leg up on socialization and education by providing preschool for them; if it works, it saves money in the long run by producing fewer criminals and welfare recipients…it is now 45 years later. We spend more than $7 billion providing Head Start to nearly 1 million children each year. And finally there is indisputable evidence about the program’s effectiveness, provided by the Department of Health and Human Services: Head Start simply does not work.

So we may as well be flushing cash down the toilet. Perhaps that is what CA governor Jerry Brown was thinking when he announced his new budget last week. It seems that the quirky state leader has reservations about the financial outlay. Friday, he said that he has adjusted his initial budget proposals “to accommodate lawmakers on some of their priorities in recent years. But he made no mention in his presentation Thursday of a chief concern of legislative Democrats: transitional kindergarten.” When asked about the proposal, the governor said he would listen to proposals, but stressed that “wisdom and prudence is the order of the day.”

It’s outrageous that the taxpayers might have to fork over billions to satisfy the political agenda of the state legislature and their teacher union cronies. The Brookings Institution’s Grover J. Whitehurst sums it all up quite well, writing that childhood education,

… remains mired in philosophy, in broad theories of the nature of child development, and in practices that spring from appeals to authority and official pronouncements of professional guilds, rather than to research. Until the field of early education becomes evidence based, it will be doomed to cycles of fad and fancy. We need a science of early-childhood education, and we need it now.

Indeed, before spending another dime on any of this, we need fiscal discipline and solid research. Until then, we are at the mercy of what Stanford’s Caroline Hoxby refers to as the cardiac test. “We just know in our heart that this is right.”

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Unions “Using Political Leverage to Punish Those Exercising Rights” in California Constitution

On October 13, 2013, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 7, which cuts off state funds designated for construction to any California city that exercises its right under the California Constitution to establish its own policies concerning government-mandated wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”) on contracts. This was a major victory for the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the construction union umbrella lobbying organization that sponsored the bill.

There are 121 California cities that govern their own municipal affairs through a charter, a mini-constitution authorized in Article XI of the California Constitution. In its letter unsuccessfully requesting for a gubernatorial veto, the League of California Cities declared that “using political leverage to punish those exercising rights provided by the Constitution is unjust” and a veto was needed to “protect the integrity of our Constitution and the communities operating in lawful compliance with it.” (Coming from the professional association of California city officials, these statements cannot be easily brushed off by California Democrats and their union allies as irrelevant “Tea Party” rhetoric.)

In California, the “Progressive” movement is determined not to let the structural protections of constitutional government impede the quest for democratic socialism and societal justice. Passing Senate Bill 7 through the state legislature and getting it signed is the type of government activism that earns praise from the national news media, as it compares the State of California favorably against the “gridlock” in Washington, D.C.

Senate Bill 7 has a practical fiscal impact as well as a constitutional significance. Out of California’s 121 cities governed under a charter, 43 do not require construction companies to pay state-mandated prevailing wages on any city contracts, and 10 do not require construction companies to pay state-mandated prevailing wages on some kinds of city contracts. The cities of El Cajon, Bakersfield, and Newport Beach are the most recent cities to establish their own prevailing wage policies. Meanwhile, unions have successfully lobbied the city councils in San Diego and Mountain View in recent months to abandon their own wage rate policies and submit to state prevailing wage law.

A couple dozen “general law” cities have recently proposed charters to voters or plan to propose charters to voters. Evading the costly state prevailing wage mandate for construction contracts has been a primary motivation for these cities, and construction unions have been aggressive in lobbying and campaigning to undermine these local efforts. In 2012, voters in the cities of Auburn, Costa Mesa, Escondido, and Grover Beach rejected proposed charters.

It’s likely that a charter city or group of charter cities will file a lawsuit in 2014 to strike down Senate Bill 7, along with two similar laws implemented by Senate Bill 922 in 2011 and Senate Bill 829 in 2012. These two laws, also sponsored by the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, cut off state construction funds to charter cities that adopt Fair and Open Competition policies prohibiting the cities from entering into contracts requiring construction companies to sign a Project Labor Agreement with unions.


Sources

Article XI of the California Constitution

Senate Bill 7 (2013) – to be California Labor Code Section 1782

League of California Cities – SB 7 (Steinberg) Undermining Constitutional Exercise of Municipal Affairs – Request for Veto

Information on Charters from League of California Cities (includes list of 121 charter cities)

State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, AFL-CIO v. City of Vista et al. – California Supreme Court decision of July 2, 2012 upholding constitutional right of charter cities to establish their own policies concerning government-mandated wage rates for municipal construction contracts.

Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions? (3rd edition – Summer 2012) – the most comprehensive report ever published on California prevailing wage and charter city policies and an inspiration for advocates of fiscal responsibility and local control. (A 4th edition is in the works.)

Senate Bill 922 (2011) and Senate Bill 829 (2012) – punishing charter cities with prohibitions on city contracts that mandate Project Labor Agreements.

State-mandated prevailing wages for construction trades in all geographic regions of California

State Building & Construction Trades Council of California

News and Opinion Leading Up to and Following Gov. Brown Signing Senate Bill 7

SB 7: Cities Stand to Lose Home Rule over Municipal Affairs – www.PublicCEO.com – September 9, 2013

Three Bad Bills that Gov. Jerry Brown Should Veto – editorial – Sacramento Bee – September 9, 2013

Legislative Sampler: 2 to Sign, 2 to Veto – editorial – Riverside Press-Enterprise – September 18, 2013

Has Labor Leader Overreached? – columnist Dan Morain – Sacramento Bee – October 9, 2013 (The answer is “no.”)

Prevailing Wage Bill Deserves a Veto – editorial – UT San Diego – October 4, 2013

Governor Should Veto Wage Bill – editorial – Modesto Bee – October 11, 2013

If Gov. Brown Doesn’t Like Intrusion, He Should Veto SB 7 – editorial – Sacramento Bee – October 12, 2013

Jerry Brown Signs Prevailing Wage Bill for Charter Cities – Sacramento Bee – October 13, 2013

Governor Brown Signs Union-Backed Senate Bill 7 and Continues Erosion of Constitutional Checks and Balances – www.FlashReport.org – October 13, 2013

Brown Signs Prevailing Wage Bill – Capitol Weekly – October 14, 2013

Brown Signs Prevailing Wage Bill for Cities – Central Valley Business Journal – October 14, 2013

Governor Signs Prevailing wage Bill for Charter Cities – Sacramento Business Journal – October 14, 2013

Gov. Brown Signs SB 7 to Neuter Charter Cities – www.CalWatchdog.com – October 14, 2013

Prevailing Wage Law Could Raise Costs – UT San Diego – October 14, 2013

Unions Smile, Cities Frown at Prevailing Wage Law – Bakersfield Californian – October 14, 2013

Modesto Fears Harm from New Prevailing Wage Law – Modesto Bee – October 14, 2013

California Construction Unions Get Two Big Wins – columnist Dan Walters – Sacramento Bee – October 15, 2013

Charter Could Cost City Funding – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – October 16, 2013

Wage Law Costs Cities More Than Money – op-ed by El Cajon Acting Mayor Bill Wells – UT San Diego – October 25, 2013


Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

 

Opponents of CEQA Reform Cite New Study with Union Connections

A broad coalition opposing any changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) held a press conference today (March 12, 2013) that included the findings of a newly-released study, The Economic and Environmental Impact of the California Environmental  Quality Act.

The study was written by a University of Utah professor with a long history of academic work biased toward the construction union agenda. It was funded by the union-affiliated California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperation Trust. Study results were summarized at the press conference by Bob Balgenorth, chairman of the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust and the former head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California.

This March 11, 2013 Associated Press article Coalition Forms to Defend California Environmental Law reports on what happened:

Common Ground, the new coalition group opposing reforms, commissioned a report as part of its effort to emphasize the importance of the law.

The study by Peter Philips, a University of Utah economics professor, points to the state’s record in building alternative-energy projects and maintaining construction jobs as evidence that the law is working.

“Has CEQA actually hindered construction? Far from it,” said Bob Balgenorth, chairman of the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust. “If anything, it’s facilitated greater construction, a cleaner environment and a better quality of life for Californians.”

Brown and the Legislature’s Democratic leaders are negotiating changes after an attempt to pass a bill failed last year.

The governor’s office had no comment on the report, but Brown has advocated for more consistent standards in reviewing development projects.

It’s unlikely that Governor Brown is ever going to comment on the report. And the business coalition in support of CEQA reform appears to be strategical avoiding any references to unions and their abuse of CEQA to obtain labor agreements and other economic concessions. So far I haven’t seen any news reports taking a critical look at this study or its origins.

So here’s the scoop about this study, courtesy of www.UnionWatch.org:

The Author of the New CEQA Study

The Economic and Environmental Impact of the California Environmental  Quality Act was written by Peter Philips, Professor of Economics at the University of Utah. Professor Philips has specialized in research on construction labor issues, with particular attention to California.

For example, in 2012 Professor Philips had his paper The Effect of Prevailing Wage Regulations on Contractor Bid Participation and Behavior: A Comparison of Palo Alto, California with Four Nearby Prevailing Wage Municipalities published in Industrial Relations: A Journal of Economy and Society. This journal is published by the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment at the University of California, an affiliate of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program. It is hosted on the web site of the union-backed California Construction Academy, a project of the UCLA Labor Center established within the Institute for Research on Labor and Employment, which (as stated earlier) is an affiliate of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program. If this tangle of programs at the University of California confuses you, that’s probably the intent.

This paper is part of an ongoing lobbying campaign of the Santa Clara-San Benito Building and Construction Trades Council and a union-affiliated organization called www.SmartCitiesPrevail.org to convince the Palo Alto City Council to repeal its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called prevailing wages) on purely municipal construction projects. This is a right granted under Article XI of the California Constitution to Palo Alto and 120 other California cities that operate under their own charters. For more information on this home-rule right, see Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions?

As shown in his curriculum vitae, Professor Philips was the keynote speaker at the California International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) conference in 2012. He has spoken repeatedly at conferences about Project Labor Agreements, including the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California annual conference in 2008.

While this background doesn’t necessarily mean that Professor Philips has inaccuracies in his research and reports, one should be aware that he holds certain presuppositions and biases about economics and labor relations that may be reflected in his work.

The Sponsor of the New CEQA Study

Page 2 of The Economic and Environmental Impact of the California Environmental  Quality Act indicates that “This study was sponsored by a grant from the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust.” This mysterious group was described last year in www.UnionWatch.org (see Mysterious Union Slush Fund Spends $100,000 Against Costa Mesa Charter).

This is an arcane type of union-affiliated trust authorized by the obscure Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978, a law signed by President Jimmy Carter and implemented by the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. Inspired by the decline of unionized manufacturing in the Northeast, this federal law was meant to help industrial management and union officials build better personal relationships and cooperate against the threat of outside competition. There are no federal or state regulations specifically addressed toward these trusts, and these trusts do not have any reporting requirements to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor-Management Standards. This is an ambiguous and forgotten law that’s ripe for abuse.

Here are some of the recent top recipients of funding from the California Construction Industry Labor Management Cooperation Trust:

  1. $1,095,000 – Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No on Measure A, sponsored by labor and management organizations (June 5, 2012 election in City of San Diego)
  2. $770,000 – UCLA Labor Center (aka UCLA Center for Labor Research and Education), part of the University of California Miguel Contreras Labor Program
  3. $250,000 – No 98/Yes 99 – A Committee of City and County Associations, Taxpayers and Environmental Groups, League of California Cities, Californians for Neighborhood Protection, Coalition of Conservationists
  4. $164,550 – “Other” (?)
  5. $100,000 – Committee for Costa Mesa’s Future – No on V, sponsored by labor and management organizations (November 6, 2012 election in City of Costa Mesa)
  6. $100,000 – Apollo Alliance
  7. $100,000 – Paxton-Patterson Construction Lab/Shop in San Joaquin County
  8. $50,000 – Taxpayers to Preserve Community Jobs, No On Measure G, sponsored by labor and management organizations (June 8, 2010 election in City of Chula Vista)

But what’s more interesting is the source of at least some of this money, if not all of it.

It’s Not Union Members that Give the Money to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust: It’s Utility Ratepayers and Contractors Working for Extorted Power Plant Owners

Since the 1990s, whenever an energy company or public utility submits an application to the California Energy Commission seeking approval of a new power plant, an organization called California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) often “intervenes” in the licensing process. Represented by the South San Francisco law firm Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo, CURE submits massive data requests and environmental objections to the California Energy Commission. The applicant by law is required to answer CURE’s submissions, at significant cost and delay. The chairman of California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) was Bob Balgenorth (see above).

If the power plant owner agrees to require its construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California or its regional affiliates, CURE’s objections fade away and the power plant proceeds unhindered through the licensing process. If the company or utility does not surrender to CURE’s demand, then CURE’s interference and lawsuits continue.

This racket – sometimes called “greenmail” because it’s the use of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and federal environmental laws to pressure developers to sign Project Labor Agreements – is well-known to the energy industry in California and has been extensively reported in the news media over the past dozen years. (For example, see Labor Coalition’s Tactics on Renewable Energy Projects Are Criticized – Los Angeles Times – February 5, 2011 and A Move to Put the Union Label on Solar Power Plants – New York Times – June 18, 2009.) It is also documented in www.PhonyUnionTreeHuggers.com.

For cases in which the power plant applicant succumbs to CURE’s harassment, the Project Labor Agreement that the power plant owner signs usually contains a provision requiring the owner or its contractors to make a lump-sum payment or series of payments to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust.

For example, the Project Labor Agreement signed by the Northern California Power Agency (a conglomerate of publicly-owned utilities) for the construction of the Lodi Energy Center required the agency to shell out $90,000 to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust. That amount was dutifully mailed to Bob Balgenorth on August 17, 2010. (For more on this payment, see High Energy: Lodi Center Designed to be a Powerhouse for Chunk of State – Stockton Record – October 4, 2011; also, the union rebuttal on the California Building Trades Council web site – ABC Falsehoods Refuted in Letter to Stockton Record.)

And Section 13.1 of the Project Labor Agreement signed by the Southern California Public Power Authority (another conglomerate of publicly-owned utilities) for the construction of the City of Anaheim’s Canyon Power Plant required the agency to shell out $65,000 to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust.

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust reports these payments as “membership dues” to the Internal Revenue Service. Which brings up a question: are the local elected officials who serve as commissioners for the Northern California Power Agency and the Southern California Public Power Authority exercising their responsibilities as “members” to approve its expenditures?

It’s a tangled conspiracy. Especially intriguing is that one union official was the head of the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California, the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust, and California Unions for Reliable Energy. For more information, see the investigative report of the Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction at this September 23, 2011 post at www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.comA Genuine California Union Conspiracy: Senate Bill 790 and the California Building Trades Council’s Ratepayer Funded Political Slush Fund

Confused about the Conspiracy? Here’s a Chart.

A public utility or private energy company applies to the California Energy Commission for approval to build a power plant.

California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) uses its “intervenor” status at the California Energy Commission to submit massive data requests and environmental complaints about the proposed power plant, as a result gumming up the licensing process and causing costly and lengthy delays for the applicant.

 ↓

Applicant for prospective power plant surrenders and agrees to sign a Project Labor Agreement with the State Building and Construction Trades Council of California or its regional affiliates. California Unions for Reliable Energy releases its grip of legal paperwork and the project moves forward unimpeded and acclaimed as environmentally sound.

 ↓

The Project Labor Agreement contains a required payment or payments to the California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative TrustCalifornia Public Utilities Code Section 3260 – enacted by Senate Bill 790 in 2011 – allows public utilities to pass costs through to ratepayers.

 ↓

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust reports those payments to the IRS as “Membership Dues,” creating questions about the rights inherent for dues-paying members.

 ↓

The California Construction Industry Labor-Management Cooperative Trust makes contributions to political campaigns and studies, including The Economic and Environmental Impact of the California Environmental Quality Act.

Solutions

Is there any way this racket can be stopped? Yes. The U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Labor Management Standards could promulgate regulations that establish restrictions and reporting guidelines for committees authorized by the Labor-Management Cooperation Act of 1978. Even better, Congress could pass legislation amending or repealing the law, and the President could sign it. Neither solution is viable for the next four years.

Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DaytonPubPolicy.

Charter Proposals for California Cities Continue Provoking Union Opposition

California Governor Jerry Brown claimed in his State of the State address that California now has “a solid and enduring budget.” His Finance Department even predicts state budget surpluses.

Despite the jubilation at the state capitol inspired by tax increases and one-party rule, California cities seem skeptical, as shown by their continued efforts to exercise their state constitutional rights to govern their own municipal affairs, free of costly and burdensome state mandates. And unions remain determined to undermine them.

The elected council of the Central Coast city of Arroyo Grande has appointed a committee to determine if it should ask voters to approve a home-rule charter, and union officials are interfering through “stiff opposition.” The elected council of the Central Coast city of Buellton is going to hold a workshop on a proposed charter, as union officials fight the proposal there too.

Meanwhile, on January 22, 2013, the Newport Beach City Council voted 7-0 to exercise its home-rule power as a charter city to establish its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”). See the text of the resolution below.

RESOLUTION NO. 2013-6

A RESOLUTION OF THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF NEWPORT BEACH EXEMPTING LOCALLY FUNDED PUBLIC WORKS PROJECTS FROM PREVAILING WAGE

WHEREAS, the California prevailing wage law requires contractors on public works projects to be paid the general prevailing rate of per diem wages for work of a similar character in the locality in which the work is performed;

WHEREAS, under the California Constitution, Article XI, Section 5, the laws of charter cities supersede state law with respect to municipal affairs of the city;

WHEREAS, the California Supreme Court has held that the wage levels of workers constructing locally funded public works are a municipal affair, and therefore a charter city’s prohibition on the payment of prevailing wage supersede state law; and

WHEREAS, the City of Newport Beach (“City”) is incorporated as a charter city, and thus the City may exempt locally funded public works projects from prevailing wage to conserve the City’s limited resources.

NOW, THEREFORE, the City Council of the City of Newport Beach resolves as follows:

SECTION 1: The City of Newport Beach exempts locally funded public works projects from prevailing wage, unless: (1) prevailing wage is compelled by the terms of a federal or state grant or is otherwise funded from a source that requires prevailing wage; (2) the public work is a matter of statewide concern; or (3) the payment of prevailing wage is separately authorized by the City Council, because the project is of a complexity and nature that the public interest would be served by requiring prevailing wage.

SECTION 2: This resolution shall take effect immediately upon its adoption by the City Council, and the City Clerk shall certify the vote adopting this resolution.

ADOPTED this 22nd day of January, 2013.

The January 22, 2013 staff report to the Newport Beach City Council recommended that it establish its own government-mandated construction wage rate policy:

…the City of Newport Beach, as a charter city, is not required to pay prevailing wage for locally funded public works projects. The City may adopt either an ordinance or a resolution to affirm its municipal autonomy and conserve valuable financial resources by exempting itself from the prevailing wage requirement for locally funded public works contracts. In the absence of an ordinance or resolution, the City may exempt itself from the payment of prevailing wage through the insertion of language into individual contracts (i.e., creation of an “actual conflict” through explicit contract terms). However, to ensure consistency staff recommends the adoption of the attached resolution. The attached resolution provides an exemption for public works projects, unless: (a) prevailing wage is compelled by the terms of a federal or state grant, or other funding source; (b) the public work is a matter of state-wide concern; or (c) the payment of prevailing wage is separately authorized by the City Council due to a project’s complexity or nature that the public interest would be served by requiring prevailing wage” to the third type of project for which the City might wish to pay prevailing wage.

Before the vote, the city attorney pointed out that the state’s definition of “public works” is ridiculously broad and recommended that the city council ensure flexibility and adopt a policy to “opt-in” to state-mandated construction wage rates. Councilman Michael Henn had the courage to state publicly that “prevailing wage” is a unique “anachronism of the construction industry” and noted that most business in America is done without government-mandated prevailing wage rates.

Study Session: Applicability of Prevailing Wage to City Projects

As a prelude to the agenda item, the Newport Beach City Council convened earlier in the day for what the city attorney described as a “fairly long study session” (Discussion Regarding the Applicability of Prevailing Wage to City Projects) to discuss exercising its right as a charter city to establish its own policy concerning government-mandated construction wage rates (so-called “prevailing wages”) on purely municipal construction projects.

A leader of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council [no web site] led off the public comment by showing a professionally-produced video called “Right the First Time” that promotes state prevailing wage laws through anecdotes and interviews with union-backed politicians. It neglects to mention the state’s absurd methods of calculating prevailing wage and defining public works. In addition, the video claims that prevailing wages are set by the free market, even though California Labor Code Section 1773 directs the state to set prevailing wage rates based on the applicable union collective bargaining agreements.

Other speakers represented union-affiliated groups such as Smart Cities Prevail and unionized construction trade organizations such as the Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board of Southern California, the Western Wall & Ceiling Contractors Association, the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) – Orange County Chapter, and the Western Steel Council. A few unionized contractors (locked into multi-year collective bargaining agreements) also spoke in defense of state-mandated construction wage rates.

Evening Meeting: Unanimous Approval of the Resolution

At the evening meeting, a collection of union representatives, unionized construction trade associations, and unionized contractors once again asked the city council to keep state-mandated construction wage rates. They again cited the usual union arguments about cheap, unskilled, out-of-town labor by uninsured and unlicensed contractors.

Notice how this letter from the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) says that quality construction requires “living wages and benefits,” as if the alternative to state-mandated construction wage rates is the California minimum wage of $8.00 per hour. Actually, state-mandated prevailing wages are typically four to six times higher than “living wage” rates set by local governments. For example, the “living wage” for the City of Irvine (in Orange County, near Newport Beach) is currently $13.13 per hour including benefits. The median wage (not including benefits) for an electrician in Orange County is $27.15, according to the California Economic Development Department. But the state-mandated total straight time “prevailing wage” for an inside wireman electrician in Newport Beach is $54.83 per hour, including fringe benefit payments and payments to “other” trust funds that do not directly benefit the employee.

A staff representative of Smart Cities Prevail (a union-affiliated labor-management cooperation committee) argued against the resolution, claiming the policy could result in economic “uncertainty and insecurity.” A representative of the unionized Fire Sprinkler Advisory Board of Southern California noted that prevailing wage contractors offer quality. A leader of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council encouraged the city council to continue requiring its contractors to abide by the state-mandated wage rates and warned of cheap labor from out of the area. A representative of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) claimed that construction workers are “part-time workers” that work eight months a year and don’t get vacations or sick days. A union contractor said “we can afford it in Newport Beach” and noted many sections of the California Labor Code would be nullified. Also speaking against the policy was a union-oriented consultant formerly involved with labor relations for the Bay Area Chapter of the Sheet Metal & Air Conditioning Contractors National Association (SMACNA).

All that needs to be said in response: In 2012, the City of Newport Beach entered into a $5,880.00 maintenance contract for “abatement of algae around the Grand Canal beaches of Balboa Island” that included the requirement for the contractor to pay state-mandated construction wage rates (prevailing wage). Is it really the business of the state legislature to impose such a requirement on the City of Newport Beach for $6000 in algae clean-up?

News Coverage of Newport Beach City Council Vote:

Newport Triggers Dock-Fee Increases, Cost-Saving Labor Contracts – Orange County Register – January 23, 2013

City Eschews Prevailing Wages: The City Council voted to exempt Newport Beach from a state requirement that compels cities to pay workers prevailing wages – Newport Beach/Corona Del Mar Patch – January 24, 2013.)

Council Closes Book on Dock Fee Increases (In other business…) – Newport Beach/Costa Mesa Daily Pilot – January 23, 2013

For More Information:

Are Charter Cities Taking Advantage of State-Mandated Construction Wage Rate (“Prevailing Wage”) Exemptions? – 3rd Edition

List of California’s 121 Charter Cities

California Supreme Court Affirms State Prevailing Wage Requirements Do Not Apply to Charter Cities – League of California Cities – July 2, 2012

Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com.

How Will Students Celebrate Labor History Month in California Schools?

Do you have children or grandchildren in California public schools? You may need to give some counter-instruction at home to balance the material disseminated at school assemblies and through classroom instruction during Labor History Month.

As enacted by Governor Jerry Brown in 2012 through Assembly Bill 2269, the entire month of May is now designated by the state government for labor unions to introduce their own propaganda to students through California public schools. Union officials and their allies in academia are open about the purpose of teaching labor history as a specific subject in public schools: “The severing of historical memory, through the loss of oral histories, personal connections and diminished media coverage, makes it harder for the labor movement to organize members…informing young people about the movement’s history and accomplishments may help the movement’s future.”

AB 2269 was approved on a party-line vote in the California State Assembly (a handful of Republicans apparently chose not to vote on it) and on a party-line vote in the California State Senate.

The only recorded objection to the bill was my five-page letter: Assembly Bill 2269 – OPPOSE, in which I cited my 2003 article from the journal Government Union Review: Labor History in Public Schools: Unions Get ‘Em While They’re Young.

Labor History Month is an expansion of Labor History Week, signed into law by Governor Gray Davis in 2002 as Assembly Bill 1900. One week turned out to be inadequate, as too many school districts were on vacation during the first week of April. Students were slipping out of the “appropriate educational exercises that make pupils aware of the role that the labor movement has played in shaping California and the United States.”

So now the entire month of May is “Labor History Month” in California schools. It provides 31 days of potential educational exercises, including the historically important international labor holiday on May 1 known as May Day.

Go to these links to see how some parties are especially looking forward to Labor History Month in California public schools:

Here are some related bills and regulatory initiatives from the mid-2000s that were not enacted into California law:

  • In 2003, the California legislature considered but did not pass Assembly Bill 581, which would have required the California State Department of Education to consider a labor relations curriculum in its next determination of the state’s History-Social Science curriculum framework and accompanying instructional materials. The legislature also considered but not did pass Assembly Bill 1177, which would have required school boards to use history, social studies, and civics textbooks that include California labor history up to the present.
  •  In 2004, Assembly Bill 1872 was introduced to insert labor history requirements into the California Education Code. 
  • In 2005, Assembly Bill 1 would have required the California State Board of Education to ensure that the state curriculum and framework include instruction on the history of the labor movement in the United States and that criteria for selecting textbooks include highlighting the contributions and history of the labor movement in the United States.
  • In 2004, “Applicant #31″ for the California Department of Education’s 2005 History-Social Science Primary Adoption Instructional Materials Advisory Panel (IMAP) was a leader in the California Federation of Teachers’ Labor in the Schools Committee. According to the applicant’s profile provided by the Department of Education, Applicant #31 “designed and led professional development workshops on labor education at schools throughout the district, state, and country. She is the creator of the Collective Bargaining Education Project, which models a labor relations curriculum for secondary teachers and students, and author of Workplace Issues and Collective Bargaining in the Classroom, an award-winning interactive social studies curriculum.” My former employer, Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of California, sent a letter to the Board of Education opposing the applicant. State Senator Jeff Denham and Assemblyman Bob Dutton also wrote opposition letters to the Board of Education. Nevertheless, the Board of Education appointed Applicant #31 to the panel, even though she was the only applicant who clearly represented a special interest group. In the end, the State Board of Education adopted the History-Social Science Instructional Materials at its November 9, 2005 meeting, without any obvious infiltration of biased labor history into the process. Budget shortfalls have since brought a halt to the state’s process of continually revising and refining the History-Social Science framework. The Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission (Curriculum Commission) approved a draft History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools for field review on July 17, 2009, but lack of funding suspended further work on the framework.

Expect to see more legislation in 2013 and 2014 to wedge Labor History deeper into the California public school curriculum.

Kevin Dayton is the President and CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com.

Unions Threaten Environmental Litigation to Block San Diego Convention Center

Whatever your views concerning the wisdom of the proposed $520 million expansion of the San Diego Convention Center and the related expansion of the adjacent Hilton San Diego Bayfront Hotel, you should be outraged at the shameless stunt of top San Diego labor union officials and their lawyers at the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Board of Port Commissioners for the United Port of San Diego.

The spectacle at the Port of San Diego was a powerful illustration of how labor unions abuse the California Environmental Quality Act, commonly known as CEQA (California Public Resources Code Section 21000 et seq.), to delay projects while demanding labor agreements and other economic or labor concessions from public and private developers. It also showed how community leaders and developers are too helpless or intimidated to try to stop or evade this practice, known as “greenmail.”


A Summary of the Spectacle at the Port Commissioners’ Meeting: You Won’t Read This Story in the Mainstream News Media!

Before a crowded meeting room packed with the San Diego region’s top civic leaders – including the Mayor of San Diego, Jerry Sanders – union officials declared to the Port Commissioners that the 1400-page final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) that the Port Commissioners were about to approve for the proposed project was inadequate and incomplete under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). They made this claim despite the Port’s efforts to address the original 62-page CEQA objection letter submitted by those same unions on June 29, 2012 to the Port concerning the proposed San Diego Convention Center expansion. To see the union letter AND the 374 pages of exhibits, go to the full set of Convention Center CEQA comments here. (The union submission starts at page 101 of the PDF document and ends at page 536.)

At the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Port Commissioners, top union officials made sure that all the important community leaders in the room recognized who had the power and the commitment to derail the project. An official of the UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30 led off the attack by declaring that the Port’s plan to comply with CEQA was deficient and needed to be withdrawn for revisions. Then a lawyer from the South San Francisco law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo explained more specifically all of the newly discovered alleged problems with the Environmental Impact Report. She was given extra time to speak because Tom Lemmon – head of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council – submitted a speaker card and then transferred his speaking time to her.

Along with her comments, the lawyer for the unions brought to the podium a NEW 42 page letter (with 197 footnotes) and 250 pages of referenced exhibits on behalf of “The San Diego Coalition for A Better Convention Center.” This phony, unincorporated group is actually a front for the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30. Such last-minute CEQA “document dumps” at government meetings are routinely used by Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo on behalf of unions.

Union CEQA Documents Submitted to Port of San Diego - San Diego Convention Center Expansion

On behalf of the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30, the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo submitted a huge last-minute objection under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to the proposed expansion of the San Diego Convention Center. The San Diego Port Commissioners approved the Environmental Impact Report anyway at its September 19, 2012 meeting.

Finally, Lorena Gonzalez, head of the San Diego County Central Labor Council, rushed into the meeting late to announce there were problems with the Environmental Impact Report for the convention center. Perhaps voters rejected her when she ran for San Diego City Council in 2005-06, but at this meeting she exercised the aggressive and coercive power of unionism as she spoke in front of the civic leaders seeking to help Mayor Jerry Sanders achieve this final economic development goal before he leaves office. Gonzalez proposed that the Port Commissioners approve a “tolling agreement” that would extend the statute of limitations for the unions to file a lawsuit. This would give unions more time to squeeze their demands out of the developers and the convention center’s public and private partners.

After these antics, the Port Commissioners recessed the meeting for about 20 minutes so Port staff could scan the document dump by Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo and make a preliminary determination of whether or not the unions introduced new and valid CEQA objections to the proposed convention center and hotel expansion. If the comments were serious threats, the Port Commissioners would need to table the item to approve the Environmental Impact Report.

Staff ultimately identified four potential areas vulnerable to lawsuits or appeals, but also indicated how the issues would be addressed. In the end, the Port Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the Environmental Impact Report, while noting that they expected litigation and appeals unless relevant parties were able to make a deal with the unions.


Using CEQA to Attain Objectives Unrelated to Environmental Protection

What is the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council seeking with its CEQA objections? As I documented in my March 11, 2011 www.TheTruthaboutPLAs.com article entitled It’s Out in the Open: Project Labor Agreement a Costly Possibility for San Diego Convention Center Expansion, union officials want a requirement for construction contractors to sign a Project Labor Agreement with trade unions as a condition of working on the projects.

Since the mid-1990s, Project Labor Agreements have become the primary political scheme that California construction trade unions use to gain monopoly control over public and private construction projects. While politicians are often lured by potential union campaign support into supporting government-mandated Project Labor Agreements, ordinary citizens don’t want their local government officials forcing contractors to sign costly union agreements to work on construction projects funded by tax dollars. Most people seem to understand instinctively what has been shown through a comprehensive study of California school construction released in 2011 by the National University System Institute for Policy Research in San Diego: Project Labor Agreements increase the cost of construction 13% to 15%. See the institute’s study at www.thecostofPLAs.com.

Since June 2010, voters in San Diego County, the City of San Diego, the City of Chula Vista, the City of Oceanside, and the City of El Cajon have all approved “Fair and Open Competition” charter provisions or ordinances that prohibit these local government entities from requiring their construction contractors to sign Project Labor Agreements with unions as a condition of winning a contract. Voters in the City of Escondido will consider a charter provision in the November 6, 2012 election that achieves the same purpose of fair and open bid competition. People in the San Diego region clearly REJECT government-mandated Project Labor Agreements.


Unions Routinely Block Private Projects in the San Diego Region with Environmental Objections Until Developers Surrender and Agree to Sign Project Labor Agreements with Unions and Require Their Contractors to Do the Same

It’s hard to track and document the numerous threats and legal actions in the San Diego area by construction unions and other unions such as UNITE-HERE to exploit the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and other environmental laws to block and delay approval of development projects until a labor agreement is signed. The negotiations and applied pressure goes on behind closed doors, and often the victimized developer is compelled to succumb in secret. To add insult to injury, the developer is often dragged to a humiliating press conference to claim publicly that signing a Project Labor Agreement with unions is a wonderful business practice.

Two companies that exposed the union greenmail to the public were SeaWorld and Gaylord Entertainment.

1. SeaWorld San Diego Theme Park expansion – threatened in 2002, but resisted, and a Project Labor Agreement was not implemented. See background information here: Unions Fail to Force SeaWorld to Sign Project Labor Agreement.

2. Gaylord Entertainment hotel and convention center at the Chula Vista Bayfront – threatened in 2007 and 2008, but resisted. Gaylord ultimately abandoned the project and commenced construction instead of a resort complex in Arizona. See Gaylord Entertainment’s 2007 withdrawal letter: Out of Chula Vista; Unions Threaten CEQA Abuse.

Other companies have dealt with CEQA greenmail against proposed San Diego projects in various ways:

1. San Diego Padres Petco Park – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569 identified alleged environmental problems in 1999. The developer agreed to a Project Labor Agreement in 2000. The project magically became environmentally sound.

2. Ballpark Village – there was a Ballpark Village draft Project Labor Agreement circulating in 2005, after Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo – representing the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569 – identified environmental problems with the project. Four years later, the same law firm identified environmental problems with the project on behalf of UNITE-HERE Local Union No. 30.

3. Poseidon Desalination Plant in Carlsbad – developer avoided union interference by agreeing to a Project Labor Agreement in 2005.

4. Downtown San Diego hotel projects, including Lane Field (Intercontinental Hotel and Aviana Suites), Sunroad Harbor Island Hotel, and San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina facilities expansion projects – the law firm of Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo has identified alleged environmental problems with these proposed projects on behalf of UNITE-HERE Local No. 30.

5. Palomar Power Plant in Escondido – Sempra Energy signed a Project Labor Agreement and avoided licensing delays at the California Energy Commission instigated by intervenor California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE). There is also a 30-year Maintenance Labor Agreement for this power plant.

6. Otay Mesa Generating Station – see here how CURE extracted this Project Labor Agreement from Calpine.

7. Sunrise Powerlink transmission line – Project Labor Agreement implemented in 2010.

8. Pio Pico Energy Center in East Otay Mesa – The State Building and Construction Trades Council of California proudly announced on November 3, 2011 that it had extracted a Project Labor Agreement for the construction of this power plant. California Unions for Reliable Energy (CURE) did NOT intervene in the licensing process at the California Energy Commission on this 300 MW project. It’s odd how unions see devastating environmental problems with projects related to solar energy generation, but didn’t see the need to comment on this one…

Other projects of uncertain status:

1. 655 Broadway – no Project Labor Agreement; union-only though.

2. Sapphire Tower at 1262 Kettner Boulevard (Santa Fe Parcel 6) – the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union No. 569 identified alleged environmental problems in 2004. (I spoke at the August 12, 2004 meeting of the Centre City Development Corporation about the union’s CEQA objections to this project.)

3. Chula Vista Bayfront project – Pacifica Companies – news media indicated that a Project Labor Agreement seemed likely.

4. Carlsbad Energy Center – threat or already agreed to Project Labor Agreement.


How Can San Diego Civic Leaders Derail the Union CEQA Attack on the San Diego Convention Center Expansion? Specific Recommendations to Four Parties.

1. San Diego’s News Media: The local news media needs to stop dancing around this issue so ordinary citizens can learn what’s happening and respond to it.  Most people think this racket is outrageous, and they will lash out against it. Even some dedicated union members are uncomfortable with the decision of their leaders to hold up projects using the California Environmental Quality Act. It just sort of feels wrong.

The union CEQA threats against Gaylord Entertainment’s proposed Chula Vista Bayfront hotel and convention center were widely reported in 2007 and 2008, and ordinary citizens were aghast. But in the case of the convention center expansion, local news media is being very cautious in their reporting, perhaps because they sense that negative publicity might jeopardize an ambitious project wanted badly by the region’s civic leaders. (For the latest examples of news media downplaying the union maneuvers, see Convention Center Project Takes a Major Step Forward – San Diego Union-Tribune – September 20, 2012 and Port Approves Environmental Report For Convention Center Expansion – KPBS – September 19, 2012.)

After the Port’s deadline on June 29, 2012 for interested parties to submit comments concerning the draft Environmental Impact Report, local news media reported on the various submissions, but neglected to mention the comments submitted by the San Diego County Building and Construction Trades Council and UNITE HERE Local Union No. 30 through Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo. This was a bizarre oversight, considering that the unions submitted 436 of the 536 total pages of comments! (See Convention Center EIR Cites Numerous Impacts – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 3, 2012, Concerns Expressed on Center Expansion: Report Brings Up Aesthetics, Noise, Air Quality, Traffic – San Diego Union-Tribune – July 6, 2012, and Port Preparing Final Convention Center Environmental Impact Report – San Diego Daily Transcript – July 3, 2012.) Those comments were the true story.

2. San Diego’s Business and Political Leaders: Someone in town has to be a courageous leader and organize a broad coalition to fight back publicly against this relentless exploitation of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by local labor union officials and their lawyers. Few people were willing to even mention the subject at the September 19, 2012 meeting of the Port Commissioners – there were no heroes in a room full of congratulatory adulation. Civic leaders need to collectively speak out against this racket. In addition, they need to stop recognizing as “community leaders” those union officials who threaten to abuse CEQA to hold up projects in order to extract labor agreements. People who pull such antics don’t belong on boards of directors and executive committees of reputable community organizations.

3. California’s Leading Environmentalists: Legitimate environmental groups such as the Sierra Club of California and the Natural Resources Defense Council don’t like how state legislators and Governor Jerry Brown are pushing for changes to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). But if this sort of behavior keeps up, one day they’ll see the state legislature amending CEQA in a way much more radical than the relatively mild “Sustainable Environmental Protection Act” that they were shrieking about in August 2012. Perhaps it’s time for environmental leaders to ask their union ideological allies to stop using CEQA to extract labor agreements from developers and governments.

4. Reasonable State Legislators and Governor Jerry Brown: California elected officials – especially those representing San Diego County – have a great anecdote here as a basis for arguing the need for CEQA reform. Imagine all the pharmaceutical conventions that will go to Orlando and Phoenix when this proposed San Diego convention center expansion is blocked by the unions’ CEQA objections. I bet comic book enthusiasts will have a blast getting together in Las Vegas! By the way, the proposed CEQA reform known as the “Sustainable Environmental Protection Act” probably won’t make a difference in stopping the practice of union greenmail. More vigorous measures similar to Senate Bill 1631 (2008), Senate Bill 628 (2005), or Assembly Bill 598 (2012) will be needed to stop this racket.

Kevin Dayton is the President & CEO of Labor Issues Solutions, LLC, and is the author of frequent postings about generally unreported California state and local policy issues at www.laborissuessolutions.com.

CTA: Politically Correct, Clueless and Shameless

Recently dubbed “the worst union in America,” the California Teachers Association does its best to live down to its new moniker.

Troy Senik’s “The Worst Union in America,” is a deadly accurate piece which appears in the Spring 2012 edition of City Journal. Not surprisingly, the author was referring to the California Teachers Association, the state affiliate of the National Education Association. It wasn’t too hard for Senik to make his case because the evidence is, well, overwhelming. With its ever ready cash on hand (forcibly taken from teachers who have no choice but to fork it over), CTA has stopped every meaningful education reform measure that has been proposed, ensured that meaningless reforms like small class size in early grades are mandated, protects underperforming and criminal teachers, bullies political opponents and encourages lawbreaking when it is to their political advantage.

But all the mean and nasty behind-the-scenes stuff is done in the name of the children and for the good of society, don’t ya know. On its website, CTA does its best to show us how caring and beneficent it is. For example, as serious, politically correct environmentalists, it touts green energy on its website. You don’t have to dig too deep before you see, “GREEN keeps district out of the red….” Yup, they actually believe (or want us to believe) that becoming an enviro-fetishist is going to save us money. The United Nations, hardly a shill for the evil corporations which as we all know are trying to kill off trees and bunnies in the name of the almighty buck, says that going green will cost us a mere $76 trillion over the next 40 years. Others have the dollar amount even higher.

The point here is that CTA is best at extorting and then spending other people’s money. To that end, along with California Governor Brown, the union is backing a tax hike which will be on this November’s ballot. Those caring CTA folks, who are of course doing it for the children, want the public to pay a higher sales tax and high income earners to pay up to 25 percent more taxes on their income than they are now. California is already ranked #50 of all the states when it comes to business climate.

In another attempt at getting its sticky fingers on other people’s money, last Tuesday, teachers from all over the state took a day off from work (courtesy of the taxpayer) and went to Sacramento to lobby the legislature to pass an on-time budget. Clueless CTA President Dean Vogel said, “This makes it all the more crucial that voters pass the governor’s tax measure in November to put California back on the road to recovery.” Yes, Mr. Vogel, this will put Californians on the road all right – to Texas – where they are smart enough not to tax their most productive citizens to the point where they want to flee the state.

It was interesting to note that CTA picked May 22nd for Lobby Day. For those of you who are not on board with teacher union political correctness, May 22nd is a holiday that, at the urging of CTA, is celebrated in many schools in California. As the CTA website tells us, it is Harvey Milk Day and we are told that,

Harvey Milk gave his life for what he believed in, and with that courage and sacrifice he gave hope to an entire generation of gay and lesbian people whose basic humanity and freedom had been denied and dishonored.

Gave his life for what he believed in? A martyr? Oh, please. The truth is just a tad different than that. As I wrote two years ago,

He in fact was a San Francisco city supervisor who was murdered along with heterosexual SF Mayor George Moscone by an unstable Dan White – one of your basic psychos who felt that the two people he murdered had wronged him politically.

Milk was no more murdered because he was gay than Moscone was because he was straight. But hey, why let that get in the way of a good story that activists can use to their advantage. Hence, CTA is mentioning Milk in the same breath as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, which is somewhat beyond reprehensible. And even worse than the fabrications is the truth about Harvey Milk.

Milk led an undistinguished life at best. At worst, he was a supporter of criminal guru Jim Jones who orchestrated the deaths of over 900 of his followers, most of whom he cajoled into drinking Kool-Aid laced with poison. For the rest of the real story about Harvey Milk, please read this article by Daniel Flynn.

If the CTA hagiography of Milk is what many in the teaching profession will be using as source material, your children will be getting a wretchedly sanitized and bowdlerized view of an undistinguished and possibly evil man. Parents, you might want to investigate what kind of Kool-Aid your child’s school is planning for this “holiday.”

Just to show how deplorable its priorities are, CTA did not have one word on its website about the courage and sacrifice of our veterans on Memorial Day, just its paean to Milk along with “suggested activities” to help children to celebrate that “holiday.”

Then there is a snippet from the May Issue of CTA’s magazine, California Educator, the hard copy of which is mailed to all its members. For the rest of us, it is now available online. (HT Darren Miller.) On page 20-21 of the current issue there is a two page spread in which CTA excoriates Stop Special Interest Money Now (SSIMN), an initiative that will be on the ballot in November. CTA commits two sins here. First it shamelessly lies about the details of the initiative. As Union Watch points out, CTA attempts to portray this prop as a corporate power grab (Goliath) with unions (David) being bullied. Of course this is union newspeak; the reverse is actually true.

The second and worse sin is on page 22 where CTA suggests that teachers tear out the poster on the previous pages and hang it in their classrooms:

This disgusting attempt to indoctrinate children is done in the name of “opposition to the Corporate Power Grab.” In fact, CTA is suggesting that teachers break the law. According to the California Education Code, school employees are expressly forbidden from engaging in partisan politics on school grounds, during school time using school funds unless,

The information provided constitutes a fair and impartial presentation of relevant facts to aid the electorate in reaching an informed judgment regarding the bond issue or ballot measure.

“Fair and impartial?” What a joke.

Parents, it’s important to protect your children from CTA’s chicanery. Please visit your child’s class on a regular basis. If you see any signs of CTA’s attempts to indoctrinate your kids, speak up. Voice your disapproval to the teacher, the principal, the school board, the local press, your legislator – whoever will listen and act to counter the proselytizing, political correctness and blatant indoctrination produced on a regular basis by the “worst union in America.”

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Jerry Brown and CTA: Testphobic Twins

Children in the Golden State will get a better education when teacher quality becomes a priority.

In perhaps the most in-depth study on the subject to date, three Ivy League economists studied how much the quality of individual teachers matters to their students over the long term. The paper, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, tracked 2.5 million students over 20 years, and using a value added approach, found that teachers who help students raise their standardized test scores have a lasting positive effect on those students’ lives beyond academics, including lower teenage-pregnancy rates, greater college matriculation and higher adult earnings. (The authors of the study define “value added” as the average test-score gain for a teacher’s students “…adjusted for differences across classrooms in student characteristics such as prior scores.”)

The only caveat from the authors is that using test scores in teachers’ evaluations could lead to “teaching to the test or cheating.” Nothing new here. Some people, when involved in any kind of competition, will try to gain unfair advantage or cheat outright. Typically, it’s a small part of the population and those who do should lose their jobs and face criminal charges.

The lesson is clear: test scores can give us a great deal of information about who the really good teachers are. But California Governor Jerry Brown, unfazed by the blockbuster study, actually called for less testing in his recent State of the State address.

No, Governor. In fact, we need more testing. In California, English and math are tested yearly starting in second grade. But history and science are tested only every few years. Tests should be given in the four core areas every year. As a former American history teacher, I could never figure out why there was no 6th or 7th grade history test. Why wait for grade 8 and throw in a few questions from the 6th and 7th grade curriculum? Never made any sense to me.

Senior Director of Education Studies at the Pacific Research Lance Izumi wrote in the Orange County Register last week,

“Brown’s education agenda contains a mishmash of proposals, some of which are steps backward and some that are mildly positive. On the clearly negative end, the governor, who has never been a fan of student testing, wants to reduce the number of tests and increase so-called ‘qualitative assessments.’ Trouble is, the reason tests are important is because they offer objective quantifiable data to measure student progress and the effect of teachers and schools on learning.”

While Jerry Brown’s call for less testing is wrongheaded, it isn’t surprising. Testing as a tool of assessing student progress has been around since Day 1, but using student test scores as a measure of teacher effectiveness has caused a backlash in some quarters. There is subset of teachers who laments that there is “more to teaching than just test scores.” And of course they are right, to a point, but they take their case to an extreme and dismiss testing completely. The ringleaders of the anti-testing zealots are the teachers unions, and their agenda has nothing to do with kids or their education. The California Teachers Association, by far the biggest political spender in the state, is about power and ensuring that the disastrous status quo is not disturbed.

Actually, teachers unions operate under the early 20th Century industrial mentality which stipulates that everyone can stick a widget on a car equally as well. Therefore, all widget stickers are equally good and all widget stickers should make the same amount of money. Substitute education for widget, teachers for widget stickers and students for cars, and you fully understand the teachers union model. Once this antiquated notion is truly grasped, the unions may find themselves in trouble, forced to acknowledge that some teachers are better than others, and that some are so bad that they shouldn’t be in the classroom at all. Once that is accepted as truth, better teachers might demand to be paid more than mediocre ones. And the good ones may not be so compliant if they’re the ones who get laid off instead of an inferior teacher who has been on the job longer. Thus, the whole concept of teachers as interchangeable industrial workers starts to unravel. And what could be worse for a group whose main lot in life is to keep acquiring buckets of money and enormous power being exposed as pushing a model that never should have been applied to the teaching profession in the first place?

The good news is that much of the rest of the country is catching on. Teacher quality has become a major topic of discussion with educators, the media and politicians of late. From Oklahoma to New York to Louisiana to New Jersey, states are getting serious about teacher evaluation, all using the results of standardized test scores as a significant part of the equation.

Good teachers matter a lot, and bad teachers can ruin a child’s future. Test scores are very helpful in identifying those teachers and value added methods are good ways to analyze test scores. But California, essentially governed by CTA, their bought-and-paid-for legislature and their man in the governor’s mansion will be the last state to do anything meaningful in this area. That means that one-tenth of the country’s children will continue to be victimized by a cartel that cares a lot about money and power and not a whit about them.

About the author: Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Jerry Brown Backs Union Power Move

Notwithstanding the fact that the government employee unions were the biggest financial backers of Jerry Brown’s gubernatorial race against Meg Whitman, he repeatedly assured us that he would govern independently. After all, he said, he is older and wiser, not interested in higher office and has nothing to prove. But the political version of the Golden Rule (He who has the gold, rules) was in full play toward the end of last week. Indeed, labor’s campaign contributions to Jerry turned out to be a golden investment.

Late Friday afternoon, Governor Brown signed Senate Bill 202, a bill reflecting all that is wrong with California and especially the Legislature as a political institution. This bill was a blatant union power grab and everyone — even left of center editorial pages — recognized it as such.

If there were any doubt whether Jerry Brown is a complete tool of labor, there isn’t anymore.

SB 202 is so wrong on so many levels. First, it mandates that, from now on, all initiative measures appear on the November ballot. The law now is that initiative measures which qualify in time to be placed on the June primary election will so appear. So what’s wrong with jamming all qualified initiatives onto one ballot – along with major candidate races — every November in even numbered years? Nothing, if you like ballot pamphlets the size of the Los Angeles phone directory. Ballot fatigue, which occurs frequently now, will be a certainty in these mega-elections.

Second, SB 202 moves the vote on a constitutional requirement for a better “rainy day fund” from June 2012 to November 2014. This budget reform was part of the infamous budget deal that left Californians with $16 billion in higher taxes. The only reform Republicans got out of this lousy deal was this fig leaf of a budget reform — but at least it was better than nothing.

In exchange for the massive tax hikes, Democrats agreed that the budget reform would be voted on in this June’s election. Indeed, the statute itself mandated June as the time for the vote. But with Arnold gone and Jerry in, Democrats figured they could break the deal. They did and Jerry is the accomplice by signing the bill.

Two senior editorial writers, one with the Sacramento Bee and one with the San Francisco Chronicle (hardly bastions of conservative thought) both asked me the identical question: “Because the Democrats broke the budget deal crafted in 2009 as it relates to the rainy day fund, why would the Republicans ever negotiate with the Democrats again?” Their question provided its own answer: Having been stabbed in the back, legislative Republicans have no incentive for bipartisan cooperation for the foreseeable future and we have Jerry to thank for this sorry state of affairs.

Finally, SB 202 is the poster child for legislative abuses. This bill wasn’t even in print on the last day of the legislative session. Having the skids amply greased with labor contributions to their democrat puppets in the legislature, the bill was introduced and then sailed through both houses. Committee “hearings” were a joke. No notice to the public at all. Testimony from experts on the impact on democracy in consolidating all initiative votes into a single November election? Forget about it. This was a “slam, bam, thank you Ma’am” job on the citizens of California if ever there was one.

Governor Brown could have done the right thing and vetoed this monstrosity. But, as we now know, he is as beholden to government employee unions as much, if not more, than the Democrats in the Legislature.

As the rest of the nation begins to shake off the shackles of intransient government labor interests, Jerry Brown can only ask “how high?” when those same interests say “jump.”

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -– California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

AB 114: A Blatant Attack on California’s Schools

The California Teachers Association and Democrats in the legislature join forces to victimize school districts, children and taxpayers.

In Sacramento, on Tuesday night, June 28, school districts, children and taxpayers were essentially mugged by a gang of Democrat legislators at the behest of their bosses in the California Teachers Association. Governor Jerry Brown, also in the pockets of CTA, was a willing accomplice.

AB 114, a one hundred page monstrosity, was rammed through both houses of the state legislature late on the 28th and was not published until the following morning. Governor Brown signed it into law the next day. As the Sacramento Bee reported, there were no committee hearings and no chance for the public to scrutinize the bill, which became public less than an hour before it was approved for passage.

AB 114 does several things, all of which imperil local school districts by imposing a mandate upon them that many will not be able to carry out. Educated Guess writer John Fensterwald says there are three ways that AB 114 steals power away from the local district.

First, it requires that each school district “assume the same level of funding as last year and maintain staffing and program levels consistent with that. Legislators are dictating this even though they admit there’s a good chance that revenues may not bear that out.”

Secondly, AB 114 eliminates the option that “districts would have over the next 45 days to make staff adjustments if they view this as necessary. Instead, the legislature is suspending that capability under the law for the next year. As School Services noted, ‘This provision is clearly designed to protect union positions, even if the district cannot afford to pay for the services.’”

Finally, the new law will “suspend key provisions for one year of AB 1200, under which school districts must self-certify that they can balance their budgets in the current year and one and two years into the future. Those that cannot must work with their county office of education to align revenues and spending. This year 13 districts were negatively certified in the latest filing, indicating they could not balance their budgets this year and next. An additional 130 districts – nearly one in seven – acknowledged trouble balancing their budgets two years out. AB 114 would require districts to assume the same revenue as this year and prevent county offices from seeking evidence of financial stability for the next two years.”

Where to begin? Since laying off teachers is not an option, it seems that the only device left in the local district’s toolbox to balance their budgets is to shorten the school year via furlough days. In this scenario, each furlough day would mean a day without learning for children and a day without teaching (or being paid) for teachers. And even this option is not something local officials can decide on their own. They must negotiate this with the same teachers union that put them in this horrible position to begin with. In other words, because of the new law, the best option would be to reduce instructional days for students, which is the last thing students need. But it should be apparent that the crafters of this legislation essentially look at teaching as a jobs program and let the children be damned.

The unfairness of this law has drawn fire from every possible quarter.

The San Diego Union-Tribune editorial board wrote that the result of AB 114 “could be downright catastrophic for San Diego schools. District leaders are imploring board members to try to save money to prepare for the big hit the district will take in 2012-13 when scheduled raises of 7.2 percent for all employees are phased in. Now a state law exists that discourages such prudence and may give district employees a legal cudgel to block prudence.”

A Los Angeles Times editorial didn’t mince words either. “Ham-fisted yet pandering, and fiscally irresponsible too, AB 114 perpetrates an abuse of state power that could wreak budgetary havoc in local school districts.” The Times also reported that more than “140 school districts are already in serious financial jeopardy, according to a state Department of Education estimate released in June. If Brown and legislative Democrats do not muster the courage to defy the California Teachers Assn. by repealing AB 114, they may push many more districts to the brink.”

Even harder hitting is Katy Grimes, writing for Cal Watchdog. “Gov. Brown has, in essence, allowed teachers to avoid layoffs under any circumstances in the next fiscal year. And school agencies will not be scrutinized financially. That’s a recipe for disaster — and a gift-wrapped treat to the CTA.” In her piece, she quotes Lance Izumi, Koret Senior Fellow in Education Studies at the Pacific Research Institute, “This is shocking. It’s obvious that unions do not care for the kids at all if they are willing to shorten the school year. This is about protecting teachers’ jobs, whether they deserve it or not.” Izumi also said, “Any need of further evidence that Brown is bought and paid for by the CTA is unnecessary. This is the real face of the governor.”

It’s difficult to disagree with Dr. Izumi. When Brown became governor earlier this year, one of his first acts was to fire a reform minded school board and replace it with business-as-usual types including Patricia Rucker, a highly paid CTA lobbyist.

School superintendents are no less outraged by AB 114. Natomas Unified interim Superintendent Walt Hanline described the measure as “the most irresponsible piece of legislation I’ve seen in my 35 years in education.”

The California School Boards Association urged the governor to repeal two sections of the bill that “intrude on the ability of school boards to manage their own resources.”

Needless to say, the kick-the-can-down-the-road crowd has been very busy as they shamelessly try to defend the indefensible. Senate President Pro Tem, and former union lawyer, Darrell Steinberg said when he met with the Sac Bee Capitol Bureau, as reported by Cal Watchdog writer John Seiler, “We were intentional. We do not want to create a situation where more teachers and classified employees lose their jobs. And we did not want to see class sizes increase.” (This isn’t the first time that an outlandish law has been passed in the name of small class size. To learn more about the small class size myth, go here.)

CTA President Dean Vogel told the Sac Bee that AB 114 “provides stability for students and teachers.”

Stability?!

No, this bill in fact destabilizes the entire state. I guess Mr. Vogel thinks that maybe seven furlough days is “stabilizing.” Are school boards going belly up all across the state “stabilizing?” Are the taxpayers in California going to feel “stabilized” when the inevitable tax hikes are proposed in order to pay for the legislators’ flagrant irresponsibility? With AB 114 the only thing that will remain stable is the $649 in CTA dues collected from each teacher whose job is saved by the union-coerced bill.

While the wanton disregard for individual school districts, children and taxpayers may technically not be a crime, it is highly immoral. As such, Governor Brown needs to be reminded that former Governor Gray Davis was recalled for gross mismanagement of California’s finances. And the legislative miscreants behind AB 114 should be voted back into the private sector come November 2012.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.

Closing the Door on Ed Reform: Ho-hum – Just a Typical Day in California

No one should be surprised at the actions of teachers unions and their acolytes who laid their cards on the table a long time ago.

In an op-ed published in the San Jose Mercury News last Wednesday, I made the point that while the rest of the country had made some positive movement toward badly needed education reform, we in California hadn’t. In fact, with Jerry Brown’s re-election as governor, we took several steps back.

True to form as a teacher union sycophant, the new (and former) state leader fired the entire school board which included prominent education reformers like Ben Austin, executive director of Parent Revolution — the organization behind the new Parent Trigger law that enables parents at poorly performing schools to sign a petition that could ultimately force a change in school governance. Brown replaced the board with a group that has no history of reform including Patricia Ann Rucker, a former California Teachers Association lobbyist.

Not surprisingly, California Teacher Association President David Sanchez said his union was “thrilled” by the new appointees because he believed the board had been stacked with too many members connected to charters, which are mostly nonunion.

To make things worse, Tom Torlakson, the elected choice as Superintendent of Public Instruction, was sworn in on January 3rd. Torlakson is the bought and paid for choice of CTA, occasionally known as Controlling Torlakson Aggressively.

Hence, at the start of 2011, CTA has its people in Sacramento poised to fight any reform that could possibly help the children of CA.

On February 9, the very day that my op-ed was published, the State Board of Education met and decided to eviscerate the Parent Trigger law by throwing in conditions that would essentially render it impotent. The LA Times claimed that a critic referred to the state action as a “bombshell.” At the LA Weekly, the normally sensible Patrick Range McDonald referred to the fact that union mouthpiece Torlakson was going to rewrite the law as a “shocker” and said that reformers were “stunned.”

For the life of me, I can’t understand why people are surprised. Jerry Brown first put a major hurt on public education when he signed the Rodda Act in 1975, allowing teachers to collectively bargain. This introduction of the unions into the educational process made for an adversarial relationship between school districts and teachers, thus undermining the “common vision of excellence previously shared by administrators, teachers, parents, students, and community leaders.” That Brown and cronies like David Sanchez and Tom Torlakson would do anything to maintain the status quo — the children be damned — shouldn’t be news to anyone.

On the other hand, Ben Austin was not very surprised at the turn of events. He is quoted as saying, “It is pretty obvious to anyone who is paying attention what is going on here – this is nothing more than a naked effort to roll back or repeal the entire Parent Trigger law under the guise of ‘fixing’ it. We know that special interest lobbyists will be swarming the capital to try to pass this ‘roll back or repeal’ law, just as they tried to stop the Parent Trigger from ever passing in the first place. But I can promise you this – parents across California will not stand for this blatant attempt to roll back or repeal one of the only rights they have to obtain a better school for their children. We will surely be back in Sacramento soon – and I guarantee you we will be riding a lot more than ‘just’ one bus.”

The “bus” at the end of Austin’s statement refers to the fact that five dozen parents from Compton (the only district to have a school whose parents have submitted a Parent Trigger petition) and parents from other parts of Los Angeles drove all night in a packed school bus to deliver their message to the State Board of Education. They spoke passionately, imploring the board not to undermine the year-old law.

Austin and the parents have the right idea. The time for underestimating the enemy and being taken by surprise when he acts badly, is over. It’s time that good people of California make a stand, rally behind reformers like Ben Austin and confront the fact that CTA, their SPI, union toady Torlakson, and a retread governor are not concerned with what is in the best interests of school children and their parents.

About the author: Larry Sand is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan,non-political group dedicated to providing teachers with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues.