Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The California Redevelopment Dispute

The fate of California’s redevelopment agencies (RDA’s) is frequently discussed in the news these days. However, resolution is close—on November 10th, oral arguments will be heard by the State’s Supreme Court in the case California Redevelopment Agencies v. Matosantos.

The issue at hand in this important case is the constitutionality of Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed elimination of all 400 of the state’s redevelopment agencies. A critical facet of his budget proposal, Brown claims the move will save the state $1.7 billion this year. Characterizing the state’s redevelopment agencies as a “piggy bank” from which the state must now draw, he plans to redistribute the money back to counties, schools, cities and other special districts.

However, he’s also proposed that RDA’s can avoid elimination if certain steps are taken by their local jurisdictions, including an agreement that the RDA’s will pay $1.7 billion this fiscal year and $400 million in subsequent budget years in statutorily mandated revenues to school entities and other special districts.

Panicked redevelopment agencies are contending that the proposed cuts violate Proposition 22, passed by voters in November 2010, which prohibits the state from borrowing or taking funds used for transportation, redevelopment or local government projects.

Opponents to Governor Brown’s proposal feel that RDA’s are needed more now than ever as the state struggles to recover from the recession. The wholesale elimination of RDA’s, they maintain, eliminates important tools to spur job creation, increase tax revenues, and induce economic growth.

However, proponents of Governor Brown’s proposal, including State Controller John Chiang, claim that RDA’s are mismanaged and waste funds that would be better used to pay for schools and other critical services. Chiang, who recently reviewed 18 RDA’s statewide, cited numerous reporting flaws, questionable payment practices and inappropriate uses of affordable housing money.

This issue –like so many the justice system and voters encounter– begs the question: which decision will positively impact the most people? If political radical and philosopher Jeremy Bentham, an early advocate of utilitarianism, were to ponder the situation, would he lend support to Jerry Brown, attempting to balance a budget and mindfully funnel funds into what he believes are our most critical areas of need; or would he cast his vote with the RDA’s, who enable and encourage local government autonomy and revitalization?

There’s no denying that the ruling by California’s top court – whether in favor, or a rejection of Governor Brown’s controversial move – will impact taxpayers and jurisdictions across the state.

The court has promised a decision by January 15, 2012, which is when the first RDA payments would be due.

Proceedings will be broadcast on The California Channel from 9:00 - 10:00 a.m. To view the oral arguments at a later date, please visit The California Channel’s archived video library

Thursday, November 3, 2011

“Occupying” the Public Eye

“Occupying” the Public Eye

Ever feel dismay when you open your wallet, or cringe when the mortgage bill arrives? You’re not alone. According to the “Occupy” social movement, you are one of “the 99%,” who has lost control of your economic life through the avariciousness of large banks and impersonal, transnational corporations.

Seeking to end the greed, corruption and privileges of the “wealthiest 1%,” the leaderless Occupy protestors have gathered in cities throughout the world to rail against a political culture that they feel has contributed to a group of elected officials who do not represent the voices, needs and concerns of citizens at the local, state, national or international levels.

The protestors’ desire for their voices to be heard seems to have been fulfilled—after more than seven weeks, the movement still tops news headlines across the world.

Camping out en masse in parks and other public spaces from Wall Street and Berlin to Barcelona, protestors have encountered a mixed bag of acceptance and hostility from the public, local businesses and law enforcement.

At Occupy Wall Street, protestors chose to eschew required police liaisons or permits, claiming that those requirements were “repressive” and that no permission was necessary as the First Amendment granted them the right to assemble.

Protecting the rights of the Occupiers and the public, while vigilantly keeping the peace, is a precarious balance - but one that must be maintained to properly exercise the First Amendment.

Whether we agree with and support the Occupiers or not, their movement reminds of the incredible (and hard won) freedoms we enjoy in the United States. Not only does our First Amendment allow them to peaceably assemble in protest, but prohibits the making of any law which abridges their freedom of speech or prohibits their petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.

This freedom from repression was borne from our forefathers’ staunch commitment to democracy and openness; and conviction that free expression and educated criticism were critical to a functioning and successful democratic form of government.

The First Amendment has been tested time and time again throughout our country’s history, most notably during wartime, but it has withstood the test of time and continues to protect anyone who wishes to speak his or her mind or assemble in protest.

While the outcome of this movement remains to be seen, it is a shining example of democracy in action. It’s certain that America’s forefathers, who thoughtfully and carefully crafted our Bill of Rights, would monitor the unfolding story with great enthusiasm.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Importance of Compromise

Compromise is an integral part of democracy. The ability to find common agreement via flexibility and a willingness to “give a little to get a lot” is a critical tool in a healthy democratic process.

Our form of government was thoughtfully crafted by founding fathers who rebelled against a dictatorship and theocracies where people were not able to have a voice. In order to keep this democratic process alive and healthy as our country grows and evolves, elected officials (and their constituents) must be continuously be willing to compromise for the greater good.

Unfortunately, however, compromise is often misconstrued as capitulation – in which the parties or individuals involved believe they must surrender or give up too much in an effort to reach consensus – leaving everyone bitter and unhappy. Fear of capitulation often leads to deadlock.

The fear of capitulation – of losing more than you’re willing to lose - creates a two-sided situation in which opposing parties are unwilling or unable to come together to seek consensus. Also known as a standoff, this intransigent situation benefits no one – and Americans know this. If you believe what you hear from all the pollsters and broadcast news, America is furious with deadlocked negotiations amongst our politicians – at all levels of government.

Record numbers of Californians/American voters have called in their complaints to the Legislature and Congress. Trusting the process of representative democracy, these callers look to their elected officials to take action on their behalf. No doubt some calls encourage lawmakers to hold their ground and refuse to “give in,” but polls suggest that the greater number are demanding that lawmakers get past their stalemates. And that will take compromise.

The Irish statesman and author Edmund Burke wrote in 1775 that, “All government, indeed every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise and barter.” It remains true.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Who does the Amazon tax really hurt?

Anyone who follows the news these days can’t avoid hearing about the brouhaha surrounding Inc.’s resistance to collecting sales tax in California. Effective July 1st, a new tax law - which expanded the definition of having a “physical presence” in the state - dictates that online retailers like must collect sales tax from California customers who purchase their products.

Amazon’s reaction to the passage of the law was to cut ties with thousands of its California “affiliates,” individuals and companies that earn commissions by referring visitors to Amazon from their own websites. These affiliates, now considered a “physical presence” in California for Amazon, must now relocate outside of the state if they wish to continue working with the company.

Amazon is hopeful that California voters will take their side at the ballot box next year and choose to overturn this new law. On July 18th, the state attorney general's office approved the company’s petition for a statewide referendum, and it has been given permission to begin collecting the 500,000 signatures needed by September 27th to qualify a repeal measure for the next statewide ballot.

Under California law, when you order from an out-of-state retailer, you are supposed to keep your receipt and pay a “use tax.” Not many consumers abide by this and it is difficult to enforce. California Franchise Tax Board (FTB) data indicates “that about 0.4% of personal income taxpayers pay use tax related to remote sales on their personal income tax returns." (Read SBOE Economic Perspective). It must be noted however, that, according to the Board of Equalization (BOE), nearly all of the top online retailers actually collect California sales tax, so it is possible than many online shoppers do not even owe use tax. Additionally, BOE staff report that use tax reporting, although low, is actually improving, citing that reporting rates were .25% in 2007, .36% in 2008, and .42% in 2009.

If Amazon wins their ballot proposition election, California residents will be able to buy a book, laptop computer or a 10-speed blender from the company, tax-free. Of note however, a recent LA Times/USC poll found that 82% of Californians do “little or no” shopping online (Amazon Tax Poll).

The fact that tax is owed on a sale that isn’t transacted in a traditional California retail store is what’s making a lot of people upset.

On the other side of the coin, some residents feel that if Amazon prevails, the state is missing out on much needed tax revenue. This potentially harms many tax-payer funded programs, such as education and mental health care.

According to FTB 2009 data (the latest year for which complete data is available), Californian paid about $10.4 million in use tax payments on their personal income tax returns for purchases made from companies located outside the state. Preliminary data for 2010 indicates that use tax payments are likely to be up about 9% - putting use tax payments around $11.3 million. (Read SBOE Economic Perspective)

Amazon’s challenge to California’s tax code has been compared to a modern day Boston Tea Party. However, in the case of the Boston Tea Party, rebels were protesting taxation by England without representation by the colonies. In the instance of Amazon, tax payers are protesting paying taxes in a democracy where there are heard.

Ultimately, democracy at the ballot box will decide what lies ahead for Amazon. Voters will decide whether to overturn this law to keep money in their pockets, or leave it in place to fund their government operations.

Whatever the outcome – it will speak volumes historically of what we as Californians stand for and what ideals we hold important.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

““Every Year” Wins in 2011

Last week we received the exciting  news that The California Channel had won a 2011 Bronze Telly Award for the outstanding use of graphics in our “Every Year” public service announcement (WATCH).  I would personally like to commend my colleagues, and in particular Jason Fluhrer, for their outstanding work!

The PSA encourages residents to make themselves aware of state government proceedings—which ultimately impact every Californian in one way or another—whether the issue is funding for education that affects our children, labor practices that have an influence on your small business, or environmental decisions that involve the landscape around you.

As a public service provided by the California cable industry, we provide raw footage of happenings from all three branches of California government. By watching these events in their entirety from the Assembly floor, the steps of the Capitol, or the courtroom of the state’s Supreme Court, viewers can get a first-hand look at the discussions that occur and the decisions that are made.

This video was chosen as a winner from over 11,000 entries from all 50 states and several countries. Submissions are judged by advertising, production and other creative professionals from across the U.S. 

We are honored to have been chosen to receive this award! The Telly Awards has been around for over thirty years and is considered the premier award honoring outstanding local, regional, and cable TV commercials and programs, as well as the finest video and film productions, and web commercials, videos and films.

Kudo’s to our California Channel team, and congratulations to this year’s other award recipients! (link to: Telly Awards)!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Challenge of Objectivity - Part 2

Objectivity is crucial if we are to grow as a society. In fact one can argue that our forefathers built America on the very principles of objectivity. Trust and respect are still just as valued today as they were in 1776. Without objectivity our world would quickly spiral into total chaos and anarchy.
The California Constitution, which is one of the longest in the world, actually has been construed as providing rights broader than the Bill of Rights in the federal constitution, especially as it relates to objectivity. Article 1, Section 9 reads:
“Every citizen may freely speak, write, and publish his sentiments on all subjects, being responsible for the abuse of that right; and no law shall be passed to restrain or abridge the liberty of speech or of the press. In all criminal prosecutions on indictments for libels, the truth may be given in evidence to the jury; and if it shall appear to the jury that the matter charged as libellous is true, and was published with good motives and for justifiable ends, the party shall be acquitted; and the jury shall have the right to determine the law and the fact.”
One of the most impressive examples of objectivity that I have ever observed occurred years ago while being recruited by the CIA. Shortly after beginning the interview process, I was given a list of recommended books through which to research the agency.
Much to my surprise, these books were a perfectly balanced presentation of information in support and opposition of the CIA. My recruiters strongly encouraged me to read as much as I could to learn the good and bad aspects of their agency so that I could come to my own informed conclusions about them. In doing so, they may not have gained an employee, but they did gain my unbridled respect.
This level of objectivity, whether in the CIA interview process or on The California Channel, causes the individual to consider his or her own emotions and values. Knowing all sides is critical to making an informed and well thought out judgment or decision that is in harmony with one’s overall beliefs.
What would I recommend to someone searching for the truth?
Don’t accept one news source as purely factual. Explore as many as possible. Don’t just watch Glenn Beck, Bill Maher, Rachel Maddow, Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart. Watch them all! Your reward will be a well rounded compilation of information that you can sort through in coming to a well informed and educated conclusion.
The more unfiltered the content the better. This is why our California Channel programming is unedited. Legislative, judicial or gubernatorial events are presented live or recorded and delivered directly to you the viewer without a middleman telling you what they perceive to be important.
There is no commentary, judgment or interpretation. As a viewer, you can watch these gavel-to-gavel proceedings and ultimately come to your own conclusions.
To watch California’s political happenings as they unfold, visit or watch us on your local cable system 24/7.
And the caller I mentioned last week – ultimately he did thank me three times for showing the program and motivating him to get involved.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

California’s 2011 Budget Stalemate

So just who is to blame for this year’s stalemate on the State Budget? Does the blame lie with the Governor, the Legislature, or California voters?
Last November, 55 percent of California voters passed Proposition 25 which states that if the Legislature fails to pass a budget by the June 15 deadline, they will not receive any salary or reimbursement of expenses until the day a budget bill is presented to the Governor.
In any year in which the budget bill is not passed by the Legislature by midnight on June 15, there shall be no appropriation from the current budget or future budget to pay any salary or reimbursement for travel or living expenses for Members of the Legislature during any regular or special session for the period from midnight on June 15 until the day that the budget bill is presented to the Governor. No salary or reimbursement for travel or living expenses forfeited pursuant to this subdivision shall be paid retroactively.”
On June 2nd, California State Controller John Chiang announced that he would enforce the voters demand.
Some argue that the Legislature’s passage of a budget bill in March actually met the demands of Proposition 25, and therefore it is improper for the Controller to withhold their pay. It is a fact that $11 billion dollars in budget cuts were agreed to this past March
So who is right?
Unfortunately, despite the budget cuts agreed to last March, we are still $10 billion short of what is required to result in a balanced budget. Proposition 58, passed in 2004, requires that the state budget be balanced – meaning simply that expenditures cannot exceed income.
So do we cut expenditures? Do we try new means to generate more income?
Recently the Public Policy Institute of California conducted a poll and found that an impressive 61 percent of Californians support the general framework of Governor Brown’s plan to fill the budget hole with a combination of spending cuts and new revenues. The poll also reveals an electorate that is still very divided over what those revenues should be.
A majority of voters oppose raising sales and income taxes, but more than two-thirds of those polled support the concept of raising taxes on the state’s wealthiest earners.
A legislative gridlock has resulted. Many lawmakers are refusing to budge on their own beliefs and/or promises that they have made to constituents. Some have even signed pledges promising voters that they will not vote for any tax increases. Yet Legislators are being bombarded from all sides by constituents who are faced with funding cuts to programs vital to their existence. Some voters tell touching and heart-wrenching stories about how potential budget cuts will significantly change their lives for the worse.
The result is a true political conundrum.
Each side of the debate presents strong arguments to make their case. So who should be held accountable if the budget is not passed by the June 15th deadline?
The easy way to come to a decision is to read or watch a favorite and/or trusted news source. Or you could ask a friend. But can you really be sure that they have listened to all sides, weighed all the arguments? Are they presenting the “facts” to you in a colored or filtered manner to enhance their beliefs and arguments?
The best way to come to a truly educated decision is to find out for yourself what is really being said and what is actually happening. What kind of society will we become if we let others do the thinking and decision-making for us?
This is why we provide unedited, gavel-to-gavel coverage of committee hearings and floor sessions. We allow you to watch and listen to every nuance as Legislators debate the various facets of the State Budget. And we hope that what you see and hear will motivate you to get involved – to make a difference in what will affect you.
There is no question that we will all be impacted by this State Budget - whether it’s the downsizing of the population in correctional facilities, the lack of funding for in-home care services for handicapped citizens, or cuts in education that will be with us for years to come.
Legislators are now faced with the decision of whether voters will be best served with a budget that’s delivered on time or by taking as much time as needed to thoroughly review all budget options. Let them hear your voice – let us keep democracy alive.
To watch exclusive, live unedited coverage of your State Legislature, visit, or watch us on your local cable system 24/7.