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The Abundance Choice (part 7) – An Environmentalist Juggernaut

Environmentalists in California, who constitute much of the vanguard of environmentalism in the world, have normalized extremism. The solutions they’ve proposed to supposedly save the planet, and the premises they’ve convinced millions of people to accept as beyond debate, constitute one of the greatest threats – if not the greatest threat – to modern civilization today. It is these environmentalists that are themselves the extremists, not the common sense skeptics who question their edicts, or the beleaguered citizens trying to survive their mandates.

The power of the environmentalist juggernaut, or, to be more precise, what has become an environmentalist industrial complex, almost defies description. Their grip on the media, as we have seen in the previous installment, is near absolute. They exercise similar control over how American children are educated in K-12 public schools, as well as what messages are reinforced in almost every institution of higher learning. They have coopted nearly every major corporation, investment bank, hedge fund, sovereign wealth fund, and international institution including the World Bank, the United Nations, and countless others. From every source, the message is always the same: We face imminent doom if we don’t take dramatic collective action immediately to cope with the “climate emergency.”

The good news is that if you want to build more water infrastructure in California, you don’t have to argue the intricacies of climate science. If the Sierra snowpack is to be permanently reduced if not nonexistent, and if all we can expect in a drier future are […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 6) – Biased, Hostile Media

You can say this for Michael Hiltzik, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Los Angeles Times columnist for the Los Angeles Times: He doesn’t conceal his biases. When we talked in late November, his skepticism concerning our initiative felt overt. And while that may only have been my subjective impression of our conversation, Hiltzik’s column, published as a “Perspective” piece by the Times on December 2, removed all doubt.

Hiltzik’s column was called “This proposed ballot measure would make you pay for the ag industry’s water inefficiency,” and featured on page two of the print edition’s front section. Hiltzik fired an 1,800-word salvo at our campaign, making assertions, starting with the title, that were designed from beginning to end to convince readers that we were pushing a terrible idea.

In one of the opening paragraphs, Hiltzik wrote “In California, water is for scamming. The newest example is a majestically cynical ploy being foisted on taxpayers by some of the state’s premier water hogs, in the guise of a proposed ballot measure titled the ‘Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022’—or, as its promoters call it, the More Water Now initiative.” Nothing subtle there.

Hiltzik’s hits came one after another. He called the initiative “costly and dishonest,” claiming it would “wreak permanent damage to the state budget,” and “force taxpayers to pay for ecologically destructive and grossly uneconomical dams, reservoirs, and desalination plants.”

But Hiltzik’s bias against “wasteful and overly costly projects” may violate his own principles.

In an irony that ought not be […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 5) – The Fractured Farmers

“We cannot support your initiative if you include the Delta Tunnel as an eligible project. And to be clear, we also cannot support your initiative if you do not include the Delta Tunnel as an eligible project.”

This statement, which I heard with my own ears sometime in early September 2021, was made by someone painfully aware of the paradox it expressed. It epitomizes how California’s farmers confront the existential threat of not enough water to irrigate their crops. They are bitterly divided over what solutions to support. If your farm is located north of the California Delta, you don’t want Southern Californians to build a giant straw that will suck the Northern Central Valley dry. And if your farm is south of the Delta, escalating restrictions on pumping water into southbound aqueducts from fragile Delta ecosystems makes a tunnel an elegant solution.

Disagreement over how to transport water through, around, or under the Delta is just one of many causes of gridlock in California over water policy, but the scale of the project and the effect it would have make it central to discussions over state water priorities. Taking an unequivocal stand on the Delta Tunnel—for or against—will immediately either alienate or attract about half of California’s farming community, along with every water agency, urban or rural, northern or southern, that is affected by it.

Not only are farmers in the Sacramento Valley to the north generally set against constructing the tunnel, while farmers in the San Joaquin Valley […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 4) – Crafting a Water Initiative

To be fair, Assemblyman Devon Mathis didn’t come up with the idea of allocating a percentage of the state budget to accomplish a policy priority. He got that idea from the California Teachers Association, which in 1988 convinced voters to approve a constitutional amendment that required a minimum of 40 percent of California’s general fund to be spent on K-14 education. But Mathis did have the temerity to be one of the first legislators to emulate the concept when, in 2019, he introduced to the state assembly the “Clean Water for All Act,” which would have given voters a chance to allocate another slice of the general fund to a specific purpose, in this case, funding water infrastructure.

Assembly Constitutional Amendment 3 died in committee, but the precedent was set. Ballot box budgeting was back in play. When I talked with Mathis about our initiative in July 2021, it was clear that water was still a top priority for this moderate Republican from the San Joaquin Valley. And as soon as he brought up the “two percent solution,” I knew we had something we could run with.

Up to that point, we had been on the right track with our focus on getting funding for projects that would increase the supply of water to Californians, but we had been planning for the initiative to rely on bond financing. The problem with this approach was that the amount we estimated California needs to spend on water infrastructure starts […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 3) – The Mechanics of Ballot Initiatives

By the spring of 2021, it was obvious the state legislature was not going to change its inadequate approach to water policy. As the state faced another year of drought, restricting water use was the only solution being taken seriously in Sacramento. And at the same time as cities were being told to prepare to ration water, farmers faced new regulations restricting not only how much water they could divert from rivers, but also how much groundwater they could pump.

For this reason, and after talking with people all over California whose businesses and jobs depended on a reliable water supply, I decided to form a group of volunteers to promote a ballot initiative that would focus on funding projects to increase California’s supply of water. The tentative name for our campaign, which we eventually adopted, was More Water Now.

The potential for initiatives to fundamentally change the political landscape in California is well documented. The now legendary Prop. 13, approved by voters in 1978, is the classic example. Prop. 13 limited property tax reassessments to two percent per year. And thanks to Prop. 13, if you own your home long enough, eventually property taxes become a manageable burden, instead of an inevitable eviction notice. California is one of 15 U.S. states that allow citizens to gather signatures from registered voters and qualify both statutes and amendments for their state ballot. But to say this is not easy is an understatement.

In California, petitions proposing initiative statutes […] Read More

The Abundance Choice (part 2) – The Problems With Indoor Water Rationing

Perhaps the biggest example of misguided water policy in California are the escalating restrictions on indoor water consumption. As will be seen, the savings these restrictions amount to are trivial in the context of California’s total water consumption, yet are imposed at tremendous cost both in quality of life and in the required economic sacrifice. Despite alternatives that are objectively more cost-effective, California’s water policy continues to go down the path of rationing indoor water use.

In 2018 the California Legislature enacted laws to restrict residential water consumption, in the form of Senate Bill 606 and Assembly Bill 1668. For urban water districts, the laws “establish a standard of 55 gallons per person per day until January 2025, and then to 50 gallons per person per day in 2030.”

It is fair to point out that some of the more alarmist reactions to these mandates are unfounded. For example, the laws will only measure aggregate use within a water district, which means that how individual users are treated if they exceed the per person indoor water limits is left up to the local utilities. That’s hardly reassuring, but at least it leaves some wiggle room. On the other hand, it creates a powerful disincentive for water agencies to invest in developing an increased, more resilient water supply, because with aggregate maximums limiting how much water the agencies can sell, they’ll think twice before adding capacity. One of the dangerous consequences of this, yet again, is a system […] Read More

Tony Thurmond – Public Sector Union Operative

As the 21st century careens its way towards more geopolitical and economic uncertainty than most people alive today have ever known, with constant and transformative change the only constant, optimists among us still hope that some elements of California’s labor movement will begin to throw their weight behind policies and politicians that offer stability and common sense; policies designed to advance the interests of all Californians. But when it comes to the teachers union, don’t hold your breath.

The fact that the teachers union is a public sector union is bad enough. Public sector unions, unlike private sector unions, do not have to make reasonable demands on management. In the competitive private sector, union negotiators know that if they ask for too much, the cost will drive the employer out of business. Public sector unions elect their own bosses; the people who then are required to negotiate with them over work rules and compensation packages. Public sector unions also protect the bad apples within their membership, shielding them from accountability. This is particularly troubling when it makes it harder to get rid of public sector workers who abuse their authority.

There’s more. Public sector unions promote a confrontational “us vs them” mentality to their members, many of whom fully embrace this indoctrination. When “them” is the general public, and in particular, any member of the public who might, for example, make a political donation to a candidate that the union opposes, this is especially problematic. Union members operate the machinery […] Read More

Are Firefighters Hard to Recruit in California?

In response to a recent California Policy Center analysis that provided an updated calculation of the average pay and benefits for full time firefighters working for cities in California, one commenter claimed that it has become difficult to recruit firefighters. The accuracy of this claim carries significant implications. When employers can’t recruit employees, then to attract qualified applicants, they have to pay them more.

The findings of the analysis were unambiguous: The average full time firefighter working for a California City is collecting a pay and benefits package that costs taxpayers over $250,000 per year. Moreover, firefighter recruitment has not been a challenge historically. With minimal advertising, cities used to receive hundreds of applications for every firefighter opening. If that has changed, what happened?

It turns out, a lot has changed. Firefighters, like all first responder positions where hazardous conditions are part of the job, get paid a premium. Over time, that premium has risen, not necessarily because the risks of the job have increased, but because the value our society places on human life and safety has increased. This means people who risk their lives must be paid more than they were in previous decades, and, concurrently, people who save lives as part of their job must be paid more because to meet the new expectations, they have to bring more training and skill to their job.

Nonetheless, a pay and benefits package equal to a quarter million per year is a pile of money, even in California. […] Read More

Sonoma County Teachers Strike Over but Underlying Issues Unresolved

On March 7, members of the union representing teachers in the Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District voted to strike. It began on March 10 and by March 17 it was over. What happened?

At first, prospects for a resolution to the strike were not encouraging. On March 9 they claimed the district could not possibly afford to issue the raises demanded by the union, particularly if those raises were extended beyond the credentialed teachers to all of the district’s employees in all the bargaining units. Then on March 17 they announced the strike was resolved. The compromise was to grant the cost of living increases in six month increments over the next three years, instead of granting the entire increase at the beginning of each year. This compromise saved enough money for the district to come to an agreement with the union.

But compromise or not, determining whether or not Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District could afford the concessions they made is not easy. Deciphering the financial statements of a public agency is nearly a fool’s errand, because they are not required to engage in accrual based double entry bookkeeping. The elegant symmetry of general ledger accounting as practiced in the private sector still allows for creative accounting, but because the balance sheet and the income statement are connected algebraically, any thorough audit of the balance sheet will turn up irregularities.

By contrast, take a look at this unaudited financial statement for Cotati-Rohnert Park Unified School District’s […] Read More

ESG Investing and Public Sector Unions

For the last few decades what used to be referred to as socially responsible investing has more recently morphed into “ESG” investing. The acronym stands for “environment, social, and governance,” and refers to how investors should evaluate the impact that every company they’re considering investing in has, positive or negative, in those three areas.

ESG investing has rapidly become a mainstream priority in the financial world. This year, the Securities and Exchange Commission is likely to mandate ESG disclosures for publicly traded U.S. companies. Reporting ESG scores is spreading as well to Europe, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere.

The implications of formalizing ESG reporting are intended to transform the global economy. Companies with low ESG scores will not only be subject to institutional divestment, which would itself constitute a serious threat to their ability to do business. They can also be denied access to lines of credit and other banking services, and they can end up unable to purchase insurance coverage.

The scope of what ESG deems objectionable is vast and inevitably subjective. It can implicate companies that may only involve a small fraction of their operations in the frowned upon activities. The allocation of low ESG scores is impacted by the corruptibility of the examiners and the criteria for ESG scoring may in many cases rest on premises that are either false or transient. With all that in mind, here some examples of activities that will draw a failing ESG […] Read More