Tuesday, October 26, 2010

First, We Kill All The Public Employee Unions

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

[Disclaimer: the objects of the verb “kill” in the above title are corporate entities and not living organisms.]

Meg Whitman has been buying copious amounts of media time extolling her agenda for a revitalized California. She wants to make the schools good, the government frugal and the future bright. Some of us are getting just a little too adapted to living with elephants in the living room.

Meanwhile, the mysterious villain who paved the way for many of the public sector pathologies that plague our state today is a likely nominee for the other side in the upcoming gubernatorial contest. Jerry the Moonbeam Brown, in his previous tenure as governor, oversaw the unionization of teachers and most other state and local government workers.

And herein lies the rub. Government worker unions, such as the CTA and SEIU, run the state, the counties and the cities. Any attempt by the Legislature, or a city council to adopt a policy contrary to the interests of government employee unions has been thus far slapped down like a drunken bug.

Vallejo is the test case for a new reality that may bring some sense to this mess. The town council had the outrageous temerity to identify union contracts as the agents of their impending bankruptcy. Sorting out and negotiation continues. At a recent town council meeting, city retirees were pitted against local taxpayers. This conflict will likely continue well into the future… taxes will go up (despite a shrinking economy) and benefits will decline.

The “B” word was used earlier this year concerning Oakland’s financial crisis. Here, in Liberalism’s favorite city, bankruptcy is considered a last resort. First, the thugs who run this town want to bankrupt the tax payers… then they’ll look at tinkering with the union contracts.

Lynndee Kemmet of the American Institute for Economic Research, writing in the Chronicle mentioned that the public employee unions have gotten their toadies in the legislature to ram AB155 through the Assembly. Should this pass the Senate, then California cities will be constrained from altering union contracts as a result of bankruptcy. Again, let’s bankrupt the tax payers instead.

This writer is old enough to have lived through several serious recessions. Never before has the public sector (a.k.a. the government) been in such vicious competition with the citizens over money. Why? It is perhaps because of the cumulative effects of union dominance over public policy -- especially fiscal policy.

Some examples of how the public employee unions have a strangle hold on most, if not all, aspects of public policy in California, and many other states, are:

1) Restrictions on hiring police (and other emergency personnel) in order to pump up overtime.

2) Dispatch of both ambulance and fire engine to medical emergencies… in the olden days this would be called “featherbedding”… forcing the “employer” to commit excessive manpower to a task in order to increase the labor cost… and, thus, union member benefit.

3) Reduced classroom size as a benefit to K-12 education. This is my favorite… because Scientific American ran an article declaring that no educational benefit of reduced class size has been demonstrated. This from a graduate student at the right wing, knuckle-dragging bastion of Oakland’s very own Mills College. The proffered explanation is that teachers working in classrooms that have had the number of students reduced, have changed nothing about the way they do their job. There’s just a lot more of them doing things the same way they were done before the latest union thug edict was implemented.

4) In the Los Angeles Unified School District they’ve had to adopt a policy of refusing to accept donated books. It seems that mandated union rules cost the district hundreds of dollars for each “free” book, for cataloging. This in the age of the computer. Readers are most welcome to add to this list.

All along my theory and opinion has been that public employee unions are, ahem, illogical. No competitive pressures exist to moderate excesses of demand. Government is a monopoly. No stockholders or discretionary consumers are available to influence otherwise suicidal financial decisions. In practice, struggling private sector unions have striven to make their industries de facto monopolies as well. The American automobile industry is a prime example of that. Union actions have simultaneously targeted all three corporate entities in order to side step market realities. Too bad Americans are allowed to import automobiles from “unstrangled” foreign economies.

Ms Whitman and any other wannabe candidate for governor of the doomed state of California would be well advised to acknowledge the elephant in the living room. “Let’s make California a right-to-work state” should be the battle cry. We are victims of cowardice as well as union thuggery.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Joe Tuman For Oakland Mayor

Joe Tuman is the only candidate for mayor of Oakland who seems to actually understand or care about the city's problem with public-employee pay and pensions.

For this reason, combined with the enormous sums of money you can expect the corrupt unions to pour into the election, he has little chance of winning the election. Still, if voters want to see any sort of improvement in Oakland's governance, they should vote for him.

I strongly urge my readers to take a look at Tuman's blog, where he answers a host of questions about the future of the city. You'll notice that he appears to have a grip on our problems, and he's offering to do a set of things that seem like those a reasonable person would undertake.

Voters should immediately reject Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan as candidates. Both candidates are part of the existing liberal power structure within the city. Quan, in particular, has presided over the city's fiscal destruction.

While Kaplan is a relative newcomer, she has failed to take on the public-employee unions to any significant degree. The one positive about Kaplan appears to be that she is favored by the city's lesbian community. I am all for Oakland becoming a gay-friendly city, as the average per-capita income of gays significantly exceeds that of Oakland's current average resident. So, to the extent gays and lesbians displace our existing poor residents, this is a good thing.

Some conservatives might consider voting for Don Perata because of his pro-development stances. The key thing to understand with Perata is that he received the endorsement of the police officers' union.

This union is pure evil, as should be obvious to anyone familiar with Oakland's ongoing flirtation with bankruptcy. So, anyone they endorse should immediately be eliminated as a viable candidate.

This year, Oakland is using ranked-choice voting. I recommend the following choices. I suggest not ranking any more than two candidates, because all other candidates would be a disaster, so it is best not even to offer them the illusion of a mandate:
1. Joe Tuman

2. Rebecca Kaplan

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

No On Measure BB Site

Just a quick post to point visitors to the site created by Marleen Sacks against Measure BB.

I'm somewhat conflicted about this measure. While I appreciate the notion of "starving the beast" by preventing the city from collecting property taxes, I do generally like the idea of parcel taxes because they are regressive.

Of course, there's always the question of whether a parcel tax can be passed along to renters (most of Oakland's undesirable inhabitants are renters). I'm not sure about Measures Y and BB.

And, parcel taxes do lower property values for homeowners, since they raise the total cost of ownership. So, that's a definite negative.

Still, I generally like them, because their impact on a million dollar house is more or less negligible, but it is significant to those on a limited income -- those we'd like to see leave Oakland for good.

The story of Measures Y and BB is so sordid that it does seem like people should vote against it. I would probably vote no if I hadn't moved my legal residence to Nevada several years ago because of my hatred of liberals.

So, take a look at that site and make up your mind. Remember that it needs a 2/3 vote to pass. So, if you vote no, it's like getting two votes for the price of one.

As for me, I'll be in Nevada this weekend early voting against Harry Reid.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Oakland No Longer Collecting Measure Y Funds?

The property tax bills for Oakland homeowners are in, and as usual the situation is pretty ugly.

But, looking at my bill for the year, I was shocked to see that the county appears not to be collecting funds for Measure Y. I'm not sure if this is a consequence of Marleen Sacks' brave efforts (please click that link to see her excellent blog on the matter).

Or, perhaps it's that the city has finally admitted on its own that collections of the tax are illegal when we have such a reduced police force. Whatever the reason, I'm grateful for the change.

And I'm also happy that I no longer have to send a petition to the city every year for a refund of the tax for the vacant lot I own. Long-time readers will know that the city has refused to record in their records that the lot is vacant. They have opted instead to force me to petition them every year to get my money back.

Without further ado, here are the details of my property tax bill. This should be interesting to those vast numbers of you who don't own property but merely freeload on the exorbitant property taxes paid by your landlords.

First, the ad valorem rate is set at 1.4086% for this year. That's, as usual, the highest rate in the Bay Area and probably the highest in the state. That means, if you buy a house for $500,000, you will pay around $7,000 a year for this tax. In contrast, in places like Contra Costa, you'd pay more like $5,500 or $6,000.

Here are the parcel taxes, rounded to the nearest dollar to further ensure my anonymity:
Mosquito Abatement: $2
CSA Paramedic: $26
CSA Vector Control: $7
City Emerg Medical: $12
City Paramedic Srv: $10
School Measure G: $195
Oak Fire Prev Dist: $65
Flood Benefit 12: $16
CSA Vector Cntrl B: $4
Mosquito Assess 2: $3
AC Transit Meas VV: $96
City Library Serv: $86
EBMUD WetWeather: $67
East Bay Trail LLD: $5
EBRP Park Safety/M: $12
City Landscp/Light: $112

The total fee is about $720. What a rogue's gallery of junk. Included is the fee that hills residents get to pay because the city decided we weren't worthy of fire protection ($65). And, we get to pay $112 into the "LLAD" which is a notorious slush fund.

I'm not sure why I have to pay $16 for floods. I live on a hill. I pay $96 for bus service, even though the nearest bus route to my house is a mile away and is more or less useless to me.

City library services are obviously a waste. Do people even use books anymore in an era of Kindles, Nooks and the ever-present Internet?

And, don't even get me started on School Measure G. True, schools are improving in Oakland. But it has nothing to do with funding. It is a product of gentrification, pure and simple.

By the way, the schools get 0.1267% of the ad valorem tax, with community colleges getting another 0.0430%. That's just more money transferred from my checking account to someone's ridiculous pension. Glad to hear of it.

Regardless, I don't see the "Violence Prevention Tax" that I've seen in previous years. I'd be curious if anyone knows the reason.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Rise and (Impending) Fall of the Urban Mob

By Mark Ross, Contributing Writer

Early March, 2007, Oakland Mayor Ronald V. Dellums and his hand picked replacement in the U.S. House of Representatives, Barbara Lee, hold a joint press conference.  It is Mayor Dellums’ first major public media event of his (fortunately) limited tenure.  The topic?  Condoms for incarcerated villains.

The rest of us can live or die without consequence (as long as we keep paying taxes).  But God forbid the worst miscreants that society can produce should be exposed to disease as an unintended consequence of their punishment.  I use this as an example of the extensive and often bizarre agenda of what I call the Urban Mob.

How did O’Bama get elected?  Why is Pelosi (along with Barney Fwank, Slapsy Maxie Waters and Syphilis Brain Pete Stark) guaranteed a lifetime in Congress?  They represent the Urban Mob.  They (the Mob) are ultra leftist, agenda driven urban denizens who have little attachment to middle class concerns… such as making the mortgage payment and the happiness and security of their children (factoid:  Nancy Pelosi has fewer chidren in her district than any other member of Congress).

They don’t own, they rent.  Some work, some work the system.  Many are self-described artists (say no more).  Some support themselves illegally by selling drugs or other people.  They have a list of issues from condoms for felons to gay marriage -- free health care to elevated life styles for farm animals.  Some are wayward trust fund babies… others just wish they were.  All consider themselves “counter-cultural” -- antagonists to the traditional American way of life.

How did this all come about?  First, Tom Wolfe set the stage in 1970 with his essay “Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers.”  Along with the Great Society of LBJ came the “poverty pimp” business.  Opportunists easily learned how to manipulate do-gooder bureaucrats.  Second, as written by others, Republican gains in the South pushed out several entrenched Democrat moss back pols from congressional chairmanships.

In the olden days there were many powerful mostly Southern Dems in Congress such as Sam Nunn, John Stennis, Wilbur Mills… and Boeing’s own Scoop Jackson.  They were the right-wing Democrats that many conservative talking heads are now opining over.  They were replaced by Urban Mob idealog thugs like Pelosi.

Fast forward to now.  A serious grass roots political upheaval is building momentum just as a midterm referendum is coming to a vote.  The puppet masters of pop culture are calling it the Tea Party Movement… and the dutiful worker bees of the movement say:  “Just don’t call us late for dinner.”  They are the complete antithesis of the Urban Mob.

They want a reduction in the scope and quantity of agendas and they want severe limits on government involvement with private life.  That’s either mainstream conservatism or classic liberalism (a.k.a. Libertarianism).  What is historically unique is that rather than a Goldwater, Buckley, Taft or Reagan igniting the flame… the broad base of the movement is essentially leaderless.  There is a pantheon of heroes and heroines.  Sarah Palin’s “Mamma Grizzleys” and Marco Rubio’s escape from totalitarian Cuba fit the narrative.  But, you see, rugged individuals don’t need leaders… they just work to make themselves free and are willing to fight to stay that way.

Politically, the inside baseball here is that the Tea Party reaction was triggered by the removal of normal restraints on the Looney Left that came with O’Bama’s election.  The subsequent success of the reaction has a lot to do with the dropping of abortion as a litmus issue.  Tea Partiers are not conspicuously either pro or con.  This author has long believed that abortion has been a hinderance on political process… but a convenient tool for mobilizing the foot soldiers of either side.  The severe reaction to the unbridled Looney Left made abortion no longer necessary as a motivator.

The epitome of the Urban Mob may have recently shot its wad right here in downtown Oakland.  The latest Johannes Mehserle/Oscar Grant riot featured all of the usual suspects… including mayoral candidates Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan who overtly interfered with police (for the good of the people, of course).  It was a carefully planned performance of guerilla theatre…  which would’ve never been held if Mehserle had been a non-white minority (or the opposite for Grant) -- all other facts remaining the same.

An encore performance is due out just after the elections.  Will enthusiasm for pointless outrage wane in the interim?  The inner Bay Area is way too insulated from diversity of thought for that to be the case.  Should the Looney Left lose its grip on the reins of power, anger at the dominant, oppressive establishment may be even greater.

We’ll just have to wait and see.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jean Quan Sucks

There's an article in today's SF Chronicle about the race for Oakland mayor, crime and policing.

The positions taken by our politicians are unsurprising in general, but I was actually pretty shocked when I came across this little gem from Councilwoman Jean Quan, who is running for mayor:
City officials, including Quan, said Measure Y required the city only to set aside money for - but not actually staff - an 802-officer force. That figure includes the 63 that Measure Y would pay for.

I'm not going to rehash the whole sordid story of Measure Y here, but suffice it so say that anyone wh0 knows anything about it knows the whole thing was a sham and a con job. The city has collected millions of dollars in taxes and essentially broken the law by failing to provide the required staffing level.

Quan's claim that the city has to set money aside for 802 officers but not staff them has to be one of the most cynical things I've seen a politician attempt in quite some time. What, precisely, is the point of setting aside the money for the cops if you're not going to actually hire them?

Obviously the real goal was to piss away the Measure Y money on social programs and idiotic pension promises to the remaining cops and other public employees. What a shock that Oakland taxpayers get screwed again.

Anyway, please vote against Jean Quan. I don't really care who you vote for, but this woman is a real piece of garbage.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Oakland's Never Ending Property Tax Nightmare

Readers should take a look at Daniel Borenstein's sobering article from last month about how Oakland's terrible property tax situation came about.

Complaints about overly generous public-employee pensions have (thankfully) become a standard part of the political dialog in California over the past couple of years. Unfortunately, for Oakland, this is the second time employees and their unions have assaulted the city's finances.

According to Borenstein's article, every single homeowner currently pays 0.1575 percent of their assessed home value in property taxes to pay for city pensions promised to employees before 1976. And, as far as I can tell from the article, we will be paying this money basically forever.

0.1575 percent may not sound like a big figure. But consider that state law sets a basic property tax rate of 1 percent. Most cities in the state impose some additional amount, with a typical total set at 1.1 percent.

As I've mentioned here before, Oakland's property taxes are set at more than 1.4 percent per year.

That difference may not sound like a lot, but it means that when a prospective homeowner is picking among Oakland, Berkeley and Orinda, they can expect to pay an additional $2,250 per year to live in Oakland for a $750,000 house.

And for what? The worst school district in the region, and a set of legacy taxes that pay for -- get this -- exactly one current employee. Yes indeed, that $1,200 our homebuyer would have to pay in Oakland to finance the 1976 tax scheme goes almost completely to pay for people who have already retired.

I've spoken to a few realtors about this situation, and they all say the same thing. The property tax discrepancy is already factored into the price of the home. So, when a family looks to buy in Oakland, they simply lower the price they are willing to pay.

What does this mean? In Orinda, the annual cost to own a $750,000 house might be $40,000. The cost in Oakland would be $42,250. So, instead of bidding $750,000 for that house, the buyer will instead bid $710,000, because then the annual-cost numbers work out the same.

My favorite thing about Oakland politics has to be the fact that not a single person of any prominence will talk about this kind of issue.

Oakland's financial mistakes have cost every single homeowner something like 5 to 10 percent of the value of their home. And that's not even counting the additional 10 to 20 percent demolition that takes place when a potential buyer realizes they will have to shell out at least $100,000 per kid (for high school at least) to get any kind of decent education.

What's the point of even voting or participating in the political system if the people you elect are going to make choices that directly and unequivocally rob you and your children of future wealth by reducing the value of your property holdings? Do people really not care at all?

Are Oaklanders so rich, or such nihilists, that they will stand by and watch a completely fake political dialog every year, only to be stabbed in the back again and again with the knife of ridiculous tax rates?

Here's my theory: Everyone in Oakland who has enough money that they could even care about such things has enough that they don't care anymore. And, everyone who cares is poor, so they want taxes set as high as legally possible to fund social programs.

This makes sense to me, since people are constantly complaining about how Oakland has no middle class. Maybe those involved in politics should consider that it is their own policies that have made our town completely uninviting to those in the middle.