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June 2010 Ballot Initiative: 13, Seismic Retrofitting

Speak Out California will be focusing between now and June on the ballot initiatives and issues that will be on the June ballot.  We will provide in-depth analysis of each as well as overviews.  We’ll also be doing regular updates on who’s funding what and how much is being spent.

Proposition 13: Property Tax: New Construction Exclusion: Seismic Retrofitting.  This June ballot initiative is named “Proposition 13” but it is not related to the 1978 initiative that cut property taxes.

This initiative prohibits tax assessors from re-evaluating taxes on new construction that is done for the purpose of seismically retrofitting – making the building earthquake-safe.  The construction would not result in increased property taxes until the building is sold.

What changes: According to the Legislative Analyst’s Office, currently some properties are exempt for 15 years from tax increases based on earthquake retrofits.  Upgrades on unreinforced masonry buildings get a 15-year exclusion while other buildings are excluded until sold.

The League of Women Voters has no recommendation on this proposition.

June Ballot Initiatives

The June election is coming up and several initiatives have qualified for the ballot. We will be writing about them here at Speak Out California as the election draws near.
The Secretary of State’s website shows that the following initiatives have qualified for the June ballot:
Proposition 13: Limits on Property Tax Assessment. Seismic Retrofitting of Existing Buildings. Legislative Constitutional Amendment.
Proposition 14: Primary Election Process Reform. Greater Participation in Elections.
Proposition 15: California Fair Elections Act.
Proposition 16: Imposes New Two-Thirds Voter Approval Requirement for Local Public Electricity Providers. Initiative Constitutional Amendment.
Proposition 17: Allows Auto Insurance Companies to Base Their Prices in Part on a Driver’s History of Insurance Coverage. Initiative Statute.
Proposition 16 is known as “the PGE initiative” and Proposition 17 as the “Mercury Insurance initiative” — but we’ll get into that later.
The not-yet-final state voter guide is available here.

Cost Of Tax Cuts Catching Up To Us

The following letter appeared in the San Jose Mercury News:

State not geared up for high-speed rail
Is high-speed rail really the answer in California? I think not. I originally thought, great, let’s match Europe’s and Japan’s advanced transportation with our own high-speed trains.
However, California is not Europe or Japan. We do not have convenient trains and buses running everywhere you could possibly want to go in every city.
Consider that if you traveled from San Francisco to Los Angeles by high-speed train in 2½ hours, what do you do when you arrive? Catch a bus or light rail to your destination? Sorry, too inconvenient and time-consuming. Rent a car? Sorry, now you have lost the economy of train travel as well as the time savings.
Either alternative adds at least two hours to your trip making the time equivalent to driving.
I say, “no on high-speed rail.” Let’s save the money and reduce our debt in California!

Let it sink in what the writer is saying here: We should not even try to catch up to the rest of the world, because we have already fallen so far behind that it will cost too much. Instead let’s just try to pay off some of the accumulated debt.
The writer is bearing witness to the results of many years of tax cutting and cutbacks in our government. After the tax cutting started in the 70s and 80s we stopped maintaining the infrastructure, so now we do not have convenient trains or buses or mass transit to use after the high-speed rail reaches your destination. We instead accumulated debt.
So here we are. The consequences of decades of cutbacks are arriving. The rest of the world leaps ahead of us. China has nearly completed a network of 42 high-speed rail lines connecting the major cities, and we can’t even get one project off the ground.
It’s certainly not going to get any better until we start asking corporations and the wealthy to pitch in and pay back some of what they gained from the infrastructure that we built in California, back in the decades before they got tax cuts.

Getting Solar Energy Stimulus Spending Right In California

This guest post is by Natasha Chart of Campaign for America’s Future.  The post first appeared at the Blog For OurFuture.

Thanks to $24 million in stimulus funding, Solar Power, Inc., a company that manufactures solar panels in China to install in the US is exploring opening a solar panel manufacturing plant in Sacramento, CA, to go along with a 10 megawatt solar power installation in the area.

There are no timelines for the projects, but Solar Power chairman and CEO, Steve Kircher seems optimistic. In a press release, he said, “Expanding our manufacturing base to California will significantly enhance our ability to meet growing demand for our solar system development expertise and our top-ranked solar panels across the U.S.”

While it’s great to get results like this from the stimulus, passing a clean energy bill at the federal level, for all the inherent problems, would create a lot more of the same. I expect that in the long run, the expansion of investments in clean energy will be more useful for reducing carbon emissions than many other, more direct attempts to regulate carbon. The reason I think that is because it will begin creating positive incentives that tie people’s livelihoods to the clean energy economy, which is a much-needed shift in the political dynamic that will ease the way towards necessary future reforms.

As David Roberts continues to point out so lucidly, shifting behavior and understanding incentives is probably the most important task of building a clean energy economy.

Fortunately, Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), chairman of the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, seems to be of a roughly overlapping opinion about the importance of the job incentive:

… Similarly, in the energy sector we need to retool the existing generation and distribution networks with cleaner forms of generation, open markets to innovators who will build power lines that lose fewer electrons and connect new sources of clean power to users, and reward investors for installing more efficient ways of using electricity. Creating the right framework for our communications networks led investors to commit about $850 billion to rebuild those networks. With the right set of policies, it is reasonable expect a similar explosion of private sector investment in the energy sector. This will result in consumers paying less for heating, cooling and lighting, and America’s energy sector will be firmly based on abundant, cheap and clean fuels. Nothing will pull innovation into the energy sector more than wind farms demanding better storage technology, solar farms demanding better ways of capturing and converting sunlight into electricity, and appliances and electric vehicles that can talk to the grid if it is smart enough.

There are other areas of the economy where Americans can and should find new jobs. In the energy sector we not only will need millions of employees, but we also know that those millions will help us achieve independence from foreign oil and an end to the pollution of the environment from carbon emissions. The trifecta of huge employment, national security, and protection of the environment is a winning ticket for America. …

And by “America”, Markey thankfully seems to mean all the Americans who need jobs, and a lot more jobs, quickly, because young and older, most people have to work for a living and don’t care how the stock market is doing.

So, more like this, please.

NUMMI Factory Closing – HUGE Impact – Steps You Can Take

This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture as part of the Making It In America project. I am a Fellow with CAF.
Toyota is planning on closing the New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. NUMMI auto-manufacturing plant in Fremont, CA on March 31. The immediate effect is a loss of 5,000 jobs. But, as with any factory closing, the effects ripple out well beyond the immediately obvious. The public has put up a lot of money to have the plant here, and the costs this closing will put on the public will be enormous.
Toyota takes off with a ton of cash, we pay the costs, it’s the way the system is set up — by us.
The effect? From The California Labor Federation, Toyota NUMMI Closure Would Kill Jobs, Destroy Communities,

…more than 5,000 autoworkers at the plant will be out of work, and another 1,500 Teamsters who transport the cars from the NUMMI plant to the dealerships will also be jobless. Additionally, as many as 50,000 workers at hundreds of businesses in California are completely dependant on NUMMI to stay afloat, from the suppliers that manufacture car parts to the restaurants where the NUMMI workers go for lunch and even the shoe stores where the plant workers buy their specialized work boots.

Toyota has benefited tremendously from this plant, as well as receiving state and federal money. A study released yesterday by the NUMMI Blue Ribbon Commission says,

The United States is Toyota’s largest market in the world. California accounted for almost 18 percent of Toyota’s U.S. sales and 5 percent of the automaker’s global sales in 2007. Toyota led California sales with a quarter of the market, more than the combined share of General Motors and Ford in 2009.
. . . Toyota has benefitted considerably from federal and state programs over the years. … the automaker captured first place in “Cash for Clunkers” sales … In a similar program in Japan at about the same time, U.S.-based automakers were excluded initially.
California has invested heavily in NUMMI … The state has given NUMMI more than $18 million for training
since the plant’s inception… Millions more have gone to NUMMI suppliers for training. Major infrastructure improvements have been done explicitly for the plant and to meet its needs. The Port of Oakland, for example,
was dredged 12 years ago to accommodate the kinds of cargo ships the plant requires at a cost of $410 million.

When the plant closes the public takes up the costs — paying unemployment, for example, for the up-to-50,000 people expected to become unemployed. The Federal Government will pick up the costs of the workers’ pensions.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) announced yesterday it will assume responsibility for the underfunded pension plan of the 5,800 employees and retirees of New United Motor Manufacturing (NUMMI), pending the plant’s liquidation by the end of the month.

Just as I wrote this week about Whirlpool, this is the way WE have chosen to make the system work. We can and must change the way the system works.

This is what companies today do. It is just the way the game is played, the way the system works. … There aren’t “good” or “bad” companies; ANY company will do these things because if they don’t they lose out to the companies that do. BECAUSE WE LET THEM. In fact, by letting this happen we make it happen because, as I just wrote, if one company doesn’t the next will, and the company that doesn’t loses out. The system.
So here is what we have to do. We have to change the rules to stop these jobs from leaving the country.

We are going to have to put our foot down, as a people, and take control of the system to make it work for us. This is not only something we can do, it is our responsibility to do this.
Call Congress and demand that they stop companies — ALL companies — from closing factories in the US and moving the jobs out of the country.
I have more coming about this.
Here is one immediate action you can take. American Rights At Work has an action page with a petition: Take Action: Tell Toyota: Don’t Abandon Your Workers

Toyota got its start in America 25 years ago when it opened a plant in Fremont, CA. But on March 31, Toyota plans to close the plant.
Laying off 5,000 people will only be the beginning. 50,000 workers, vendors, and suppliers – and the families who depend on them – could immediately lose their livelihoods. And hundreds of thousands more will be affected by the loss of tax revenue and consumer spending.
Will you help us demand Toyota do right by the workers who helped it get a foothold in America?

CA Taxes Poll — Ask A Stupid Question…

Here’s a surprise, in a recent poll of Californians The Field Poll asked if Californians want to balance the state’s budget by having their taxes raised, and a lot of people said they would prefer not to have their taxes raised.

The poll mysteriously did not ask if people would prefer that large corporations, who got their taxes cut in the most recent budget negotiations, should pay for their use of the state’s infrastructure.  It did not ask if oil companies should pay a bit for the oil they take out of the ground here to sell back to us.  It did not ask of the wealthiest Californians — some of whom pay no taxes at all — should be asked to pay a fair share to support the infrastructure that enabled them to become wealthy.
The poll only asked people what they think of raising taxes.  Only 9% think California’s budget should be balanced using only tax increases.
The poll asked if the budget should be balanced using spending cuts only.  31% said yes. The poll did not ask what specific spending to cut.  I suspect people would have answered that the state should cut only that spending that is wasted, but certainly not any of the spending that is used for services they find necessary, like schools or roads or police.  Cut that other stuff.  It did not explain what spending cuts mean to the respondents, that class sizes have grown enormous, that college tuition has increased beyond what people can afford, or that elderly ill people cannot get basic services.  They would answer, cut that other stuff but not stuff that affects any of us.
The poll asked if people feel the state should balance the budget using an equal mix of spending cuts and tax increases.  29% said yes.   It did not point out that people have always answered polls this way but the state has been only cutting and cutting for years and years.
The poll also asked if people feel the state is responding to their needs.  That would be the same state that has been cutting services for years and years, while giving big tax breaks to corporations.  Surprisingly a lot of people feel that the state is not responding to their needs.
The poll did not ask if people wanted a pony.