Initiative Would Bring Back Part-Time Leg

JAN. 24, 2012

By KATY GRIMES

A ballot initiative planned for the November ballot could result in fewer bills coming out of the Capitol, potentially saving California taxpayers and business owners “tens of millions of dollars.”

Despite widespread disapproval of the Legislature’s performance, every bill attempting to change the system from inside of the Legislature is immediately killed.

Watching this first hand and desiring to make California’s Legislature part-time, Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, co-authored a ballot initiative with The People’s Advocate founder Ted Costa, renowned for the Gray Davis recall.

The initiative would create a three-month, 90-day session at the state capitol, and reduce salaries for individual lawmakers from the present $7,940 monthly to $1,500 monthly. The annual salary would go from $95,291, down to $18,000, thus allowing legislators to hold a private-sector job at home in the district.

The new proposal would prohibit legislators from accepting state employment or appointment to a state government position for five years after they leave the Capitol.

“Politicians will spend less time driving business and jobs out of California,” said Grove. “They will spend less time in the state Capitol with special interests and lobbyists, and more time in their own districts.”

This state has had a full-time legislature since 1966 when voters approved the change. However, the annual cost to support the full-time Legislature has risen to $256 million, and created a culture of professional politicians — the direct opposite of a citizen-Legislature.

Grove said too many of the state politicians live in a bubble and work entirely in the political realm, disconnected from the world of taxpayers and the millions of private-sector businesses.

Critics

“California should definitely get rid of the full-time legislature; it is an experiment that has not worked and has not led to better lawmaking; if anything it has led to worse,” wrote Tony Quinn, long-time political writer and analyst, in December. But Quinn doesn’t like the proposed plan. “The Shannon-Costa 90-day part-time version is nuts.  They need to go back to the drawing board and come up with something that makes sense.”

Quinn said that legislators will not be able to put together a budget in that short period, so Gov. Brown’s Finance Department will end up writing the state budget and it will be passed with little public oversight or input.

Legislative Analyst’s Review

A  new report by the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office found that the salary reductions would save the state $9.2 million annually, and the other cost savings would run into “tens of millions of dollars” annually.

But Grove asked, “Why stop there?” Despite the strong LAO estimate, Grove said the analyst’s office should take an even deeper look at more savings potential if the Legislature is no longer full time. “If the LAO looked at the cost of thousands of bad bills, we would save hundreds of millions of dollars.”

It’s not just the cost savings on legislators’ salaries, which is substantial, according to the LAO. The savings to businesses that no longer have to change their business plan and taxing structure every year to adjust to new legislation will be substantial, said Grove. “And, state agencies would be on a two-year budget.”

As for the critics of a part-time Legislature who claim that lawmakers wouldn’t be able to get their jobs done on a reduced schedule, Grove said that’s hooey. “Look at all of the gut-and-amend bills they jam through in the last three days of the session.”

Grove’s initiative will limit legislators to working no more than 95 days per year. According to Grove, legislators already work 80-95 days each year. “But it gets expensive with the per diem they accumulate just for showing up,” Grove said. “They collect $141 and some change just for showing up, saying the ‘Pledge of Allegiance’ and a prayer,” she said. “Do you earn an extra $50,000 tax-free every year?” she asked.

Add in the per diem pay with travel reimbursements and lawmakers are paid very well for what many do not consider a full-time job.

Where the hard costs will be realized is not in the amount of time legislating, but in the costs associated with travel, dining, rent and “other” reimbursable expenses, said Grove.

Live and Work In the District

Despite critics who say that the idea is irresponsible, and that it would weaken lawmakers’ oversight over public services, Grove insists that the state would be better off with less legislator time in the Capitol and more time at home in the district. “They should have to live and work among their constituents, with a real job, and most importantly, living under the laws they pass,” Grove added. Her initiative would help reduce the “political class” power structure controlled by a small number of people.

“We used to have a part-time legislature back in the 1960s when we were the [world’s] fifth largest economy,” said Grove. “Now California has dropped to the eighth largest economy. Texas has a part-time Legislature, Florida does it. Those are very large economies and they work on a part-time basis.”

Most of the states pay lawmakers less than half of what California legislators are paid. Some pay much less than that: Nevada pays just $137.90 per day for a maximum of 60 days of session. New Hampshire pays $200 for a two-year term. Alabama pays $10 per session day. Texas pays $7,200 per year. And New Mexico only pays for legislators’ expenses; there’s no salary.

The big union-dominated states pay closer to California’s legislative wages, but not as high. Pennsylvania pays $78,314 per year. New York pays $79,500 per year. And Michigan pays $79,650 per year. Even Wisconsin, with the union riots at the Capitol last year, only pays legislators $49,943 per year.

While Grove in the measure did not address the exorbitant cost of legislative staff, many whom receive six-figure salaries, Grove said without a full-time Legislature, the number of full-time staff will diminish as well. “As will the number of police needed to guard the Capitol, and so on,” Grove said. “And those savings should continue year after year.”

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  1. larry 62
    larry 62 24 January, 2012, 08:57

    I will be the first in line to sign the initiative.

    Reply this comment
  2. queeg
    queeg 24 January, 2012, 10:12

    It is time.

    Electing enviros, race hustlers and supporters of the welfare state must stop.

    Reply this comment
  3. John Steele
    John Steele 25 January, 2012, 07:28

    were are the petitions… I’m all in for this one

    Reply this comment
  4. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 25 January, 2012, 08:35

    This just in:

    “Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan for a ballot initiative that would raise tens of billions of dollars by temporarily increasing the sales tax and the income tax on wealthy Californians has the support of more than two-thirds of likely voters in the state, according to a poll by the Public Policy Institute of California.

    “The poll found 68 percent of likely voters – including majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents – support the proposed initiative, which the administration estimates would generate about $35 billion over five years.”

    Looks like Grover and his buds are gonna lose this one.

    Reply this comment
  5. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 25 January, 2012, 09:21

    Don’t count on it Steve, if history is any lesson. California voters have soundly rejected the last seven attempts to raise taxes at the ballot box.

    And where do you think the $35 billion will come from? The rich?

    The uber-rich can and will just move residency to another state. The middle-class “rich” will close their small businesses or move because taking more taxes out of their pockets will force this.

    The “rich” that Democrats love to harp about are people like me – a low-paid reporter who owns several properties with my husband. We have to pay taxes on all of the “income” we receive from the properties, but it is not real income. The property “income” goes right back out the door to the mortgage holders, repairs, maintenance, the leaky roof, the parking lot that needs repaving, the warehouse bathroom that needs to be updated… even if we break even, any rental income reported is counted as income.

    The other middle-class “rich” are the small business owners like my husband. He is double-taxed in his small corporation – personal taxes and corporate taxes. But in the years he showed an “income” of more than $250,000 (if he was lucky), he gets classified “rich.” But that “income” goes to pay employee salaries, rent, mortgages, equipment leases, health insurance, workers comp insurance, lawyers, accountants, sales commissions – just how far do you think that goes?

    You clearly don’t understand what more taxes would do to the hard working, slightly successful, middle class in this state. As for the successful middle class earners like doctors, lawyers, accountants, architects, engineers, and scientists – if more is taken out of their pockets, then they won’t be spending the money on houses, cars, trips, college, orthodontia, tutoring, sporting events, or any of the other discretionary spending we rely on for revenue in the state.

    But government jobs will be safe because your employer won’t be taxed more.

    – Katy

    Reply this comment
  6. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 25 January, 2012, 12:18

    I also am a property owner and landlord and a middle-class taxpayer, Katy. And I do NOT work for the government, even though I back public servants against never-ending attacks by the Grover Norquist faction.

    But I support everyone paying his or her fair share. You never talk about the fact that Warren Buffett pays a lower tax rate than his secretary, or that Mitt Romney pays 15 per cent while I pay 30 percent plus. You never talk about huge corporations paying the same property tax rates as my grandmother pays thanks to Prop. 13.

    While you couch everything in terms of the middle class, you are really defending the millionaires and billionaires that are skating on paying their fair share.

    Reply this comment
    • CalWatchdog
      CalWatchdog Author 25 January, 2012, 13:49

      StevefromSacto wrote: “But I support everyone paying his or her fair share.”

      I agree. And everyone’s “fair share” is zero.

      As to Buffett and Romney paying a “lower tax rate” than many people, including me: Let’s all pay the same tax rate: zero percent.

      — John Seiler

      Reply this comment
  7. Amy L
    Amy L 25 January, 2012, 12:50

    Excellent, incisive response to “stevefromsacto”. I think he does understand the punitive effect of Jerry’s proposed “temporary” tax increases on “wealthy Californians”, but could care so less. Am guessing that steve’s been tasked with promoting yet another tax hike and that he’s not working for free. Its Governor Jerry and his plan vs. a group of anonymous, greedy villains. Tacky, obvious rhetoric directed against productive individuals. Shame on him.

    Reply this comment
  8. CalWatchdog
    CalWatchdog Author 25 January, 2012, 15:46

    “I support everyone paying his or her fair share,” Stevefromsacto wrote. But then he immediately attacked Warren Buffett and other millionaires and billionaires “skating on paying their fair share.”

    Buffett pays what he owes, and legally hides the rest of his money in offshore accounts. So does Romney, and other very wealthy people who know they’d become cash machines for the government if they didn’t. And it is legal.

    Remember that the uber wealthy pay taxes on investment income, not income taxes. They aren’t cheating or skating on paying their fair share. Investment income is taxed at a different rate and should be – they already paid income taxes on the money earned which is used for the investment purchases, unless the money is in a 401 k or other similar account.

    What is the “fair share” for people like Buffett and Romney who don’t use government social services (the most expensive services, with the highest costs)? But people reliant on the government don’t pay any income taxes. Is that fair? Aren’t those who are dependent on government, skating on paying their fair share? They still receive government provided water, garbage, sewer, services, public schools, public health care, public assistance for rent, and food.

    Why should Buffett and Romney, two very productive members of society who contribute to the employment of others, pay more? Because they have more? Because they have earned more? Isn’t that a disincentive?

    Buffett can chatter all he wants about the rich paying higher taxes, but he has yet to write a larger check to the IRS, or to his state. If he is sincere, he should be lobbying Congress to change the U.S. banking laws, and bring his money back to the states.

    On a side note – if U.S. banking laws were changed commensurately with a change to a flat tax for everyone in the country, the government would have plenty of revenue. Lower income taxes, lower capital gains taxes, cut some regulations, and entrepreneurs would create again. Supply-side economics always wins out over Keynesian economics… but government would have to shrink. Oh my.

    – Katy

    Reply this comment
  9. sonofkahuna
    sonofkahuna 25 January, 2012, 16:54

    “Fair share” implies a flat tax, whether it’s 0%, 15% or 30%. Hard to make a rational argument against that.

    Did Obama actually say, “No more bail-outs, no more hand-outs, no more cop-outs” last night? He must’ve been stoned.

    Reply this comment
  10. stevefromsacto
    stevefromsacto 25 January, 2012, 19:55

    Still no logical answer as to why Buffett’s secretary should have a higher tax rate than Buffett. Still no answer as to why Dole, HP and Disney should pay the same property tax rate as my grandmother.

    Also, nice generalization that “people who rely on the government” don’t pay any income taxes. Last time I checked, we send our kids to school, drive on the roads, use the park system, go to public hospitals, etc. and we pay taxes for it. Except for the gated community, private school elite, we ALL rely on government.

    Finally, if the corporations getting all these tax breaks and bailouts would actually use this money to create jobs in THIS COUNTRY, instead of outsourcing them or just using the money to pad their profit margins, maybe we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    Reply this comment
  11. Jamie D
    Jamie D 25 January, 2012, 20:29

    @steve
    ” Last time I checked, we send our kids to school, drive on the roads, use the park system, go to public hospitals, etc. and we pay taxes for it.”

    Last time I checked, these services are used buy the uber rich as well. Why do they have to pay more then those making less then them?
    The funny thing with math is you can get two different impressions from the same result depending on how it is phrased.
    I.e. “That rich guy only paid 15% in taxes!!!” sounds harsh and like he should pay more right?

    How about this, ” That rich guy paid $6 million in taxes last year ( 15% ), holy crap why does he have to pay soo much?!”

    Reply this comment
  12. queeg
    queeg 25 January, 2012, 23:36

    This site laced with socialists and Utopians…

    NO NEW TAXES EVER!””””

    Reply this comment
  13. cacheguy
    cacheguy 26 January, 2012, 07:51

    Go to http://www.shannongrove.org/ to request petitions.

    Reply this comment
  14. Fred Mangels
    Fred Mangels 26 January, 2012, 12:44

    That form on Shannon Grove’s site for petitions doesn’t work well for me. I can’t get it to scroll all the way to the bottom so I can fill it out completely (I think). I just filled out what fields I could see and clicked my Enter key and it seemed to submit it. No verification they received it if for no other reason than I couldn’t see if there was a field for e-mail on the form.

    “Given the low level of competence among politicians, every American should become a libertarian. The government that governs the least is certainly the best choice when fools, opportunists and grafters run it. When power is for sale, government power should be severely limited. When power is abused, the less power the better.”– Charley Reese

    Reply this comment
  15. cacheguy
    cacheguy 26 January, 2012, 22:31

    You have to scroll down inside the form to get to the “submit” button. It is there but you may have to work to get to it.

    Reply this comment
  16. cacheguy
    cacheguy 26 January, 2012, 22:33

    Hit the “tab” button on your computer after you fill in the last information you see. That works better.

    Reply this comment
  17. HombreLibre
    HombreLibre 27 January, 2012, 10:36

    @ stevefromsacto

    All federal tax laws are approved by Congress. The majority of businesses and individuals already pay their “fair-share” (class-warfare code speak) of taxes based on the applicable tax laws active during the year of filing.

    All of the convoluted write-offs, deferrals, tax credits, income type classifications, tax deductions, expenditure amortizations, ad infinitum, were written into the tax code by Congress- they approved them.

    Therefore, there should be no animosity toward anyone using the tax code to minimize their tax liability.

    Ironically, President Obama, while engaging in class-warfare with his “fair-share” rhetoric, really means that it is all Congress’ fault that Buffet only pays a 15% tax rate.

    Reply this comment

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