Monday, January 15, 2018

GOP RETIREMENTS ALSO COMPLICATE LIFE FOR DEMS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 2, 2018 OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
      “GOP RETIREMENTS ALSO COMPLICATE LIFE FOR DEMS”


          Democrats were gloating in mid-January, almost assuming victories in two once-solidly Republican California congressional districts and figuring that could help assure their retaking control of the House of Representatives after eight years of GOP domination there.


          But hold on one minute. The twin departures of two longtime House grandees and committee chairmen also present some problems for Democrats, even if many don’t see it.


          That’s because both those GOP retirees, Orange County’s Ed Royce and Darrell Issa, whose district includes most of northern San Diego County and some of Orange County, have had very prominent targets on their backs ever since Democrat Hillary Clinton carried both their districts in 2016, when Issa won reelection by the slimmest margin of any House incumbent.


          Now Democrats will have no one local to target, likely making the campaigns there almost exclusively about how loyal the Republicans running might be to President Trump.


          What’s more, the departure of the two incumbents opens both districts to the vagaries of California’s top two primary election system, where only the two leading primary vote-getters win spots in the November runoff regardless of party.


          So neither Democrats nor Republicans can now feel absolutely assured of making the fall ballot.


          With Issa and Royce on that ballot, Democrats would not have to worry about splintering their votes in the primary and possibly giving the GOP both runoff slots, as happened earlier in this decade in a predominately Democratic district in San Bernardino County.


          In that district, now represented by Democrat Pete Aguilar, Republican Gary Miller got two additional years in office because so many Democrats ran. The same could happen in the two newly-open, incumbent-less districts, among 29 being vacated nationally by GOP retirees so far. Democrats need to hold onto all their seats and take 24 GOP slots in order to win back a House majority.


          There is a chance the GOP could suffer from splintering this year, too, especially in Royce’s district, centered on Fullerton. The likes of former Assemblywomen Ling Ling Chang and Young Kim quickly entered this race, as did Orange County supervisor Michelle Steel and former state Senate Republican leader Bob Huff. Former county GOP chairman Scott Baugh and county Supervisor Shawn Nelson also might run. Half a dozen Democrats got in the race before Royce dropped out and more may now declare, with the March 9 filing deadline well over a month away.


          Royce, whose tenure as chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee was due to end next December anyhow, quickly endorsed Kim, his former longtime aide. That may net her a big share of the $3.5 million war chest Royce possesses.


          All this could see two candidates who each pull fewer than 20 percent of the primary vote facing off in November.


          Things could also get complicated in Issa’s district, where Republican Assemblyman Rocky Chavez entered the House race within hours of Issa’s retirement announcement. Chavez, a moderate and one of seven GOP legislators who last year helped pass an extension of the state’s cap-and-trade system for cutting greenhouse gases, has a chance to win over some no-party-preference voters who might have turned thumbs down on Issa. Other prominent Republicans also could enter this race, including state Senate Republican leader Pat Bates and Diane Harkey, chair of the recently scandal-ridden state Board of Equalization.


          Four Democrats were already seeking to oust Issa, a longtime ultra-conservative who as chairman of the House Oversight Committee incessantly dogged ex-President Barack Obama with unproven claims of wrongdoing. Among the Democrats is retired Marine Col. Doug Applegate, an Iraq war veteran who almost beat Issa in 2016. That forced Issa to adopt more moderate public stances in the last year. He even altered his conservative voting habits slightly, opposing Trump’s controversial tax changes at the last moment, after it had become clear they would pass without his help.


          The GOP’s congressional campaign chief, Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, expressed hope Democrats would splinter in the June primary, leaving their eventual nominees “black and blue, and broke.” But there’s almost as much chance of the GOP splintering, which leaves plenty of uncertainty for both parties.
         

    -30-

    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net.

OBSCURE AGENCY STATE’S BEST DEFENSE AGAINST NEW OFFSHORE OIL

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JANUARY 30, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “OBSCURE AGENCY STATE’S BEST DEFENSE AGAINST NEW OFFSHORE OIL”


          Florida escaped from President Trump’s plan to sell new offshore oil drilling leases because it has a Republican governor who called in a favor. There was also the fact that Trump owns ocean-view property there.


But not to worry, California. This state has the California Lands Commission. This usually obscure agency rescued California almost 11 years ago, the last time part of California’s coast was as seriously threatened as some areas now feel. Both Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the federal administration of President George W. Bush then avidly wanted a floating platform off the coast of southern Ventura County to bring liquefied natural gas (LNG) into California and commit consumers to pay billions of extra dollars each year for cooking and heating.


          It never happened thanks to the Lands Commission, a three-person board with control over the state’s tidelands out to three miles offshore.


          And today it’s largely because of that same commission that Trump’s plan draws only lukewarm interest from the oil industry.


          Almost 11 years ago, on a 2-1 vote with then-Lt. Gov. John Garamendi and then state Controller John Chiang, both Democrats, voting no and Schwarzengger’s representative voting yes, the LNG proposal died despite a multi-million dollar effort from the Australian energy giant BHP Billiton.  California consumers were spared at least 30 years of depending on high-priced foreign energy.


          Environmentalists and consumer advocates insisted California didn’t need LNG, just as they now say offshore oil is not unneeded. They proved right, as fracking and shale deposits in the Rocky Mountain region created a surplus that American companies are now exporting.



          The Lands Commission didn’t actually ban LNG then, just as it can’t ban new offshore wells today. It did, however, forbid pipelines carrying the gas from crossing tidelands and beaches. It would almost certainly do the same with pipelines carrying oil from offshore derricks.


          For even if the federal government sells oil leases in federal waters more than three miles offshore, the Lands Commission would still have to let oil companies connect to onshore transport centers, refineries or other oil holding stations.


          Such permits won’t happen as long as California remains a Democratic-dominated state. Whoever succeeds current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom next year will serve on the Lands Commission. So will Controller Betty Yee and a representative of the next governor.


          There are ways other than pipelines to bring the oil ashore, or it could be exported straight from platforms. Tankers could bring oil to refineries here and abroad, for one example. But that would add vastly to the cost of drilling, making new leases unattractive as long as the price of oil remains well below $100 a barrel. Prices this month have hovered just above $60 per barrel.


          Meanwhile, the odds of the Lands Commission voting in the immediate future to facilitate offshore oil are infinitesimal. Adding new drill rigs to the coastal scene has been anathema here since the infamous Santa Barbara Channel oil spill of 1968. The beach-fouling, wildlife-killing Refugio State Beach spill northwest of Santa Barbara in 2015 reinforced that already strong opposition.


          So new oil leases off California are not very attractive. Oil companies also know the available oil isn’t exactly copious. Known reserves are estimated sufficient to power the country for about 20 days at the most. That’s another reason there’s been little interest from the industry for the last few decades.


          And there’s an unspoken industry fear of political backlash. If they do anything as radically unpopular and environmentally irresponsible as drilling new offshore wells, oil companies fear they could spur consequences from politicians.


          Yes, Gov. Jerry Brown has talked a good game on conservation and climate change and renewable energy. But his administration has also issued 238 new drilling permits in existing leases since 2012, the number of active oil and gas wells rising 23 percent in the state since Brown became governor. Most of those new wells are on shore.


          The expansion could quickly end if the next governor is unfriendly to Big Oil, one possible consequence of new offshore leases.


          But the base of the state’s ability to resist new offshore drilling still resides in the Lands Commission, and there is every reason to believe it would act the same now as when it stymied LNG.

         
    -30-
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net.


Monday, January 8, 2018

THIS MAY BE THE YEAR PROP. 13 INTENT IS RESTORED

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE:  FRIDAY, JANUARY 26, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
“THIS MAY BE THE YEAR PROP. 13 INTENT IS RESTORED”


Any time traveler revisiting the California of 1978 would have an easy time understanding why Proposition 13 passed so handily that year, lowering property taxes throughout the state to 1 percent of the latest sale price or 1 percent of the 1975 assessed value.


Such a traveler would enter a land with skyrocketing property taxes based on the latest market value of each property. Not the latest sale price, but an arbitrary market value assigned to every piece of property by county assessors basing their numbers largely on “comparables,” the prices of similar homes in the same or nearby neighborhoods.


          Many senior citizens and others on fixed incomes lived in dread of the annual assessment letter informing them of their home’s purported new value. Plenty (no one knows the exact number) felt compelled to sell.


          Then along came longtime Los Angeles gadfly Howard Jarvis and his Sacramento-based pal Paul Gann with Proposition 13, which they sold as a measure to give homeowners financial stability and predictability. So long as a property stays in the same hands, that initiative still dictates, basic property taxes on it can rise no more than 2 percent per year.


          One major result: California has had systematic tax inequality for the last 39-plus years, with neighbors in similar houses or condominiums paying radically different taxes, mostly based on when they bought and not on current values.


          There is no significant move today toward changing those provisions. But some change nevertheless may come to the sacred-cow law later this year.


          That would be in the form of a “split roll,” where commercial and residential properties are taxed at different rates.


          This has some basis in history, for anyone going back to view the Jarvis-Gann campaign of 1978 would not hear much about commercial or industrial property taxes. Yet owners of those kinds of properties enjoy the same benefits as homeowners and their share of the overall property tax burden has dropped by several percent since 1978.


          Advocates of more funding for public schools and other local services have long contended the split roll is the best way to make up what those causes lost under Proposition 13. The idea has been kicked around in Sacramento and elsewhere for a generation, but never went anywhere.


          And yet, a 2015 survey of 104,000 likely voters found 75 percent favored withdrawing Proposition 13 protections from non-residential property.


          As the 40-year anniversary of Proposition 13 approaches in June, proponents of the split roll have for the first time submitted a proposed initiative to make this change. One reason they chose the initiative route rather than trying to get the state Legislature to put the change on the ballot: Democrats – usually more sympathetic than Republicans to the idea of taxing businesses – have narrowly and at least temporarily lost their two-thirds majority in the state Assembly because two members felt compelled to resign when charged with sexual improprieties and another left for unspecified health reasons.


          Advocates of the change say it could raise billions of dollars to improve public schools and colleges.


          “I think the cumulative effects of the unfair tax system have gotten to the point where it’s created crippling…impacts on the state,” said Melissa Breach of the state’s League of Women Voters.


          The measure has not yet been assigned a title by Attorney General Xavier Becerra and so petitions are not now being circulated for signatures.


          But it’s for certain the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn., named for the Proposition 13 co-author, will fight it vigorously. As with previous tentative moves toward a split roll, the hard-fighting organization will brand this measure as an attempt to crack the solid protections homeowners get from Proposition 13. The Jarvis group and its allies usually claim that once any Proposition 13 provision is changed, it will be only a short time before homeowner protections would be lost.


          While the 2015 poll makes it look easy to get this passed via an initiative, looks can deceive. The fears of California homeowners, who already pay far more than average state and local income and sales taxes, are not difficult to stoke.


          All of which means this may be the year Proposition 13 changes. But don’t yet bank on it.

                  

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     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net.

CLIMATE CHANGE BEHIND COMING FIRE INSURANCE CRISIS

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JANUARY 23, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
    “CLIMATE CHANGE BEHIND COMING FIRE INSURANCE CRISIS”


          Climate change, if you ask most state experts, has already created a wildfire crisis in California. In the process, it’s causing a fire insurance predicament.


          “All hell is breaking loose,” was Gov. Jerry Brown’s sum-up on national television of the effects climate change and its wildly variable and unpredictable weather patterns have had in fire-ravaged parts of the state.


          Anyone who tuned into broadcast press conferences by top-level firefighters during the blazes of both September and December also heard them bemoaning the changes global warming has brought to their jobs. As Brown noted, with only slight exaggeration, “The fire season used to be a couple of months in the summer; now we’re in December.”


          Before 2017, California sometimes saw major wildfires as late as early- to mid-November, but almost never deep into December, a time when the annual rainy season has usually been well under way. But all fall a persistent atmospheric high-pressure ridge prevented rain clouds from moving into much of the state.


          One result was fires that lasted weeks, feeding off vegetation that mushroomed after last year’s unusually wet winter and then dried out almost completely, leaving huge amounts of fuel for fires.


          Most of the more than 2,000 homes and other structures destroyed in this year’s far longer than usual fire season were insured, some owners paying extra-high premiums because they’re in known fire areas.


          At the height of the infernos, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones warned the new year-round threat to homes in many parts of the state could change the entire fire insurance marketplace.


          This crisis is real, but it’s not yet widespread even though some homeowners have already gotten notices of non-renewal from insurance companies. Those are likely harbingers of many more to come.


Jones noted in an interview that insurance companies can’t cancel policies during their term. They must also renew policies for homes in fire disaster areas for at least one more year after any current policy expires. But they don’t have to renew policies in non-disaster areas when they expire and they don’t have to renew homes in disaster areas more than one year beyond current policy expirations.


          These rules mean there is a crisis, spurred largely by new weather conditions that have broadened areas rated as fire-prone. But this insurance availability crisis won’t look like what happened after the 1994 Northridge Earthquake, when property insurance companies refused to renew many existing policies and stopped writing new home and business insurance in the state. That impasse ended in 1996 with creation of the California Earthquake Authority and elimination of an old rule under which companies writing any property insurance also had to offer quake coverage. The state-run CEA now writes the vast majority of earthquake policies.


          “It’s possible some insurers will reduce their willingness to write policies in areas at risk for fires,” Jones said. The state’s Fair Plan, roughly equivalent to the CEA in that it must insure anyone who applies, is the fallback for homeowners in places now deemed fodder for future burns. Fire insurance through the Fair Plan costs more than ordinary policies, although by law prices cannot be excessive. But rates vary according to home replacement values and fire risk.


          Before last year’s blazes, the number of Fair Plan policies was rising by about 1,000 per year, Jones reported. That figure climbed in 2017 and likely will again this year. He added that homeowners should view the Fair Plan as a fallback option to be used only if no commercial insurer will cover them.


          One factor pushing some insurance companies to stop writing policies might be the 1988 Proposition 103, which forbids them from packing all their costs from last year’s fires into this year’s rates. Instead, compensation for those costs must be spread over 20 years to avoid big financial shocks to homeowners.


          Overall, said Jones, “insurers are using more and more sophisticated (computer) models to determine risk factors. Some of those models might cause them to back off writing insurance in some areas.”         


          All of which means climate change now is impacting wallets, forcing an insurance crisis in both proven and potential fire disaster areas.


    -30-
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net



Friday, December 29, 2017

TRUMP’S EPA KEEPS NERVE GAS PESTICIDE IN USE HERE

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 19, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
          “TRUMP’S EPA KEEPS NERVE GAS PESTICIDE IN USE HERE”


          The outcry would be enormous if large numbers of farmers began using Zyklon B as a pesticide on fruits and vegetables. That was the nerve gas Nazi Germany used to execute six million Jews and eight million other victims in their notorious death camps.


          But there was little outcry except from environmentalists when the chief of President Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency late in 2017 decided to let U.S. farms continue using another nerve gas invented by the Nazis on crops as diverse as nuts, apples, broccoli, melons, citrus, corn and soybeans. German scientists didn’t invent the organophosphate chemical chlorpyrifos as a pesticide; rather they used it to gas Jews, gypsies and others they crammed into the airtight rear areas of mobile vans, a total of more than half a million persons.


          Trump is not alone in allowing manufacturers (primarily the Dow Chemical Co.) to keep selling the noxious substance to farmers and others. In fact, ex-President Barack Obama’s EPA didn’t move to prevent use of chlorpyrifos (pronounced klawr-peer-uh-fos). Obama’s EPA, though, did not claim the evidence against the substance was “insufficient” to declare it a health hazard, as current EPA head Scott Pruitt did.


          But the EPA under Obama did drag its feet, so much that in a 2015 hearing of the Ninth Circuit federal Court of Appeals, longtime appellate Judge Wallace Tashima scolded an EPA lawyer about the eight years it had by then taken the agency to work on a possible chlorpyrifos ban. “I think this is a pretty miserable record,” Tashima opined.


          The upshot is that chemical companies, not objective scientists, appear to control America’s pesticide regulation, no matter who is president.


          That became clear when a scientific panel of California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment last month voted unanimously to place the chemical on the list of dangerous substances under the 1986 Proposition 65. The panel included professors from UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC Davis and Stanford, along with a scientist from the pharmaceutical firm Genentech.


Proposition 65 hazard warnings usually are found on gasoline pumps and tanker trucks, not grocery shelves.     But California farms now use more than 1 million pounds of chlorpyrifos yearly, about one-fourth of the national total, even if it is at lower concentrations than what Nazi executioners employed. Just last May, 50 farm workers exposed to its spraying near Bakersfield immediately suffered symptoms like vomiting, nausea and fainting.


          A 2016 EPA report found there are no safe uses of chlorpyrifos. All food exposure, the study said, is unsafe and there is no safe level in drinking water. The chemical is found at unsafe levels in schools, homes and widespread communities in agricultural areas like the Central Valley. In fields, unsafe levels continue 18 days after spraying.


          Ironically, this chemical also puts the lie to the old saying that “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” For apples are one of the crops where chlorpyrifos is most commonly used. In California, it is used most heavily in Kern, Tulare and Monterey counties.


          A detailed 2016 study by Project TENDR, an independent group of academic scientists, found “Children in America…are at an unacceptably high risk of neurodevelopmental disorders that affect the brain and nervous system, including autism, intellectual disabilities and…behavioral disabilities.” The pesticide puts children at risk for lower IQ, attention deficit disorders and childhood tremors, among other problems.


          Instead of using it, farmers could fight insect pests with botanically-sourced pesticides including cinnamon oil and garlic oil. State officials report some have switched to another family of insecticides known as neonicitinoids. One problem: These substances threaten bees, even if they are easier on people.


          But no one has to make changes for now because of the Pruitt ruling. So children not only in California, but nationwide, may be endangered by eating foods their parents have good reason to believe healthy. That’s in part because studies show toxicity even at very low concentrations.


          The bottom line: Obama may have been slow dealing with the chlorpyrifos problem. But Trump and his appointee Pruitt make it clear they don’t even see a problem.

         
          k     -30-       
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. He is the author of the book “The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government's Campaign to Squelch It,” now available in an updated third edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net.

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WILL ELECTRIC FREEDOM GET A MAJOR DELAY?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: TUESDAY, JANUARY 16, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
     “WILL ELECTRIC FREEDOM GET A MAJOR DELAY?”


          The California Public Utilities Commission giveth, but the same benighted agency much more often taketh away. At least from consumers.


          In December, this five-member commission for the first time in many years stood up for utility customers by refusing to let the San Diego Gas & Electric Co. dun its customers for the costs of negligence in the leadup to massively destructive fires in 2007. At almost the same time, though, commissioners scheduled a vote that could allow the state’s three big privately-owned utilities to continue their regional monopolies almost unabated for at least another year.


          The vote, set for the PUC’s first 2018 meeting on Jan. 11, would put at least a temporary halt to the establishment and/or expansion of Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) programs around the state. These programs allow cities or counties to let electricity customers choose whether to stick with the existing utilities or switch to a locally-run public entity that buys power from generating companies at the source and brings it to customers via utility company lines.


          Nonprofit CCA prices are generally lower than those of the big for-profit utilities like Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and SDG&E. They also use more renewable energy.


          Utilities see CCAs as a serious threat. Just how serious was evidenced when PG&E spent more than $46 million of its shareholders’ money pushing the unsuccessful 2010 Proposition 16 to halt almost all CCAs, only to see it lose badly even though opponents spent less than .02 percent as much as PG&E.


          CCAs currently operate in places as diverse as Sonoma County, Lancaster, Richmond and Marin County. The biggest of all figures to be one in Los Angeles County, where residents and businesses in all unincorporated areas can now participate and 82 cities within the county can opt in if they choose. There is strong interest in CCAs from Ventura County, many of its cities, and the city of San Diego, plus pending CCAs in San Jose and several other cities. So it’s easy to see why the big utilities feel imperiled.


          But if the PUC passes its proposed resolution on Jan. 11, much of that will halt for at least a year and maybe longer.


          The resolution, reportedly proposed at the behest of the big, investor-owned utilities, forces CCAs to make arrangements to keep enough power for peak energy moments like record-hot summer days available at all times. They would also have to dovetail their planning with a schedule pre-set by the commission, which regulates energy prices and policy, transportation rates and some parts of cell phone and water policy.


          So instead of opening or taking on new service areas and customers all through 2018, as many had planned, most CCAs would have to wait at least until 2019 to expand, if the big existing utilities don’t come up with some new tactic to delay them further.


          The proposed resolution infuriated some cities that had planned to get aboard existing CCAs soon, hoping to take advantage of the CCAs’ emphasis on renewable energy sources to green up their power supply quickly. The resolution, said Kevin McKeown, a Santa Monica city councilman and board member of the Los Angeles County CCA, “appears to be a stealth attempt…to freeze new local Community Choice programs, including ours, for at least a year. Santa Monica will oppose this, fighting for cleaner and cheaper electricity for our residents and businesses by all means possible.”


          He called for the PUC to pull “this regressive item off its…agenda.”


          McKeown is correct about the stealth quality of the planned new restriction on CCAs. While a PUC press release underlines a claim that CCAs applying to start before last Dec. 8 would not be affected by the resolution, buried on Page 13 of the document itself is a stipulation saying it does in fact cover “expanding” CCAs. That provision would prevent existing CCAs from recruiting new cities, counties and customers for a year or more.


          The bottom line: This planned new regulation is a plain attempt by the PUC to favor the big private utilities with which it has been documented to collude in the past over the consumers those companies frequently seek to soak.

         
    -30-
     Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough: The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, go to www.californiafocus.net

Friday, December 22, 2017

WILL SELFISH PROPOSITIONS CROWD THIS YEAR’S BALLOT?

CALIFORNIA FOCUS
FOR RELEASE: FRIDAY, JANUARY 12, 2018, OR THEREAFTER


BY THOMAS D. ELIAS
   “WILL SELFISH PROPOSITIONS CROWD THIS YEAR’S BALLOT?”


          If supporters of several proposed initiatives now in the process of gathering signatures get their way, California voters may soon see an unprecedented opportunity to cast extremely selfish ballots.


          The most purely selfish of these were put forward by Lee Olson, a previously unpublicized figure in the Orange County city of Huntington Beach.


          Three proposals from Olson are now authorized to circulate, although it’s unclear whether they will get much financial support. If all should reach the November ballot, they will provide a litmus test of whether Californians really mean it when they proclaim to pollsters that they support more education funding, good roads and better academic quality in public schools.


          One planned Olson initiative exempts Californians with no children enrolled in public schools from paying any taxes, fees and other charges for public education. If it makes the ballot, this would give millions of the state’s senior citizens and parents of private or parochial school students a chance to vote themselves thousands of dollars in personal savings – at the expense of the millions of students enrolled in public schools, colleges and universities.


          This could cost the state many billions of dollars, and no one has any idea how that funding might be replaced. It would likely be the most selfish proposition ever placed on a California ballot.


          Not far behind is another Olson proposal to exempt anyone over 55 years old from paying state or local income and property taxes and property fees. It doesn’t quite go so far as to let seniors off the hook for homeowner association fees in condominiums and other developments that require them. But this one would decimate spending for schools (again) and fire and police departments, plus road and sewage repairs, courts, parks and virtually everything else government does. It would cost governments $60 billion a year – unless they raise sales and vehicle taxes through the roof.


          Olson has another notion, too, this one to prohibit school boards from enforcing any kind of educational standards, while giving parents the “right to determine the venue…” where their children are schooled. It’s not clear whether that would force the University of California to take every student who wants to attend, regardless of qualifications, but that would likely be a subject of lawsuits.


          These are probably the most radically destructive ideas ever proposed for the California ballot, and they could provide myriad opportunities for casting ultra-selfish ballots – votes that might backfire on those who cast them they next time they need police or fire department help, or want to flush their toilets.


          Of course, more standard measures now circulating also could offer plenty of chances to cast selfish votes, while standing a far better chance of actually qualifying for the ballot.


          One is the proposal to repeal the state’s new 12-cents per gallon gasoline tax, reviled by Republicans and some Democrats. Every poll shows Californians want the road repairs for which the billions of dollars this tax is raising are earmarked. But those same polls show a majority of voters dislikes the new levy. That’s pure selfishness, voters essentially saying they want smooth pavement, but don’t want to pay for it. Like much that’s self-serving, this set of sentiments has plenty of potential to backfire on supporters when they have to buy new tires, springs, shock absorbers and struts after driving through enough potholes.


          Another more standard proposal already enjoying significant support would allow property owners under 55 years old to transfer their Proposition 13 property tax benefits when they sell one home and buy another, just as folks over 55 now can do. That one would also cost governments billions, with no one having the slightest idea how to replace the funds.


          And there’s a proposal setting salaries for schoolteachers with at least five years service at the same level paid to state legislators. This would allow for ultra-selfish votes from myriad schoolteachers and their families, without concern for public school budgets.


          None of these possibilities has yet reached the ballot, but if any or all make it, they will provide voters with opportunities to be as selfish as they like, no matter what they tell pollsters in advance.

 
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    Email Thomas Elias at tdelias@aol.com. His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit www.californiafocus.net