MOORLACH UPDATE — Millstones and SCA 7 — March 30, 2017

The Democrats have run the California Legislature for some four decades and they have not made maintaining the state’s roads a high priority in the annual budget. Saying that they’ve neglected our highways and byways is a gross understatement. Now the monopoly party wants to tax everyone for its non-prioritization of this critical government function.

I raised my concerns about their plan in a recent Senate Governance and Finance Committee meeting (see MOORLACH UPDATE — SB 1 — March 9, 2017 march 9, 2017 john moorlach).

I’ve already stated on numerous occasions that Caltrans is one of the most mismanaged of the 50 departments of transportation in the nation (MOORLACH UPDATE — Seven Solutions for Caltrans — August 15, 2016 august 15, 2016 john moorlach, MOORLACH UPDATE — Caltrans Fairways — August 28, 2015 august 28, 2015 john moorlach, MOORLACH UPDATE — Caltrans Insubordination — March 18, 2016 march 18, 2016 john moorlach, and MOORLACH UPDATE — Belaboring — September 5, 2016 september 5, 2016 john moorlach).

Now the monopoly party wants to take more money away from the poor in order to repair roads, roads that would be in better shape if so many of the state’s residents did not have to commute such long distances to get to their more affordable homes (but I digress). I would call this a millstone. The LA Times covers the most recent news in the first piece below.

The second piece is in the Capitol Weekly and it introduces my Senate Constitutional Amendment 7. I was a signatory in opposition to Proposition 71 of 2004 (see the Look Backs for 2004 in MOORLACH UPDATE — LOOK BACKS — December 19, 2009 december 19, 2009 john moorlach, MOORLACH UPDATE — Daily Pilot — October 28, 2009 october 28, 2009 john moorlach, and Double Dippers october 16, 2009 john moorlach).

I thought it was a boondoggle back then. Regretfully, all of my concerns came to fruition. Now the state’s General Fund is paying the bond payments, when it is in desperate need of funds for roads.

The questions that were directed my way for the third piece below in The Davis Enterprise (CALmatters) were on Senate Bill 54, mandating that California become a sanctuary state. So, my quote seems a little out of place and even a tad insensitive for the actual topic that was addressed.

Since my departure from the Orange County Board of Supervisors, the Sheriff’s Department has been receiving dismal press. From the snitch program to now serving moldy bread, it would be nice if our Sheriff could put the OC in a better light when it comes to legislative efforts up here in Sacramento.

‘Milestone’ state plan to fix roads and bridges

Higher gas taxes and a new vehicle fee would raise $5 billion a year for a variety of transportation needs

By Patrick McGreevy

Acknowledging the transportation system has been neglected, Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative leaders on Wednesday announced a proposal to raise gas taxes and vehicle fees to generate more than $5 billion annually for repairing California’s crumbling system of streets, highways and bridges, as well as to increase mass transit.

It remains uncertain whether Brown will be able to muster the two-thirds vote in both houses of the Legislature needed to approve the new revenue sources, which include a 12-cent-per-gallon increase in current gas excise taxes on Nov. 1. Future increases would be made through a new tax calculating methodology and annual inflation adjustments. Those changes would begin in 2019 and would be fully implemented in 2020.

The package also includes a new, annual vehicle fee that would average about $51 based on the value of the car.

It was announced at a news conference on the Capitol steps attended by Brown, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) and Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles).

"This is a milestone. For a long time the state has not been doing what it has to do,” Brown said, standing with more than 100 lawmakers, labor leaders and construction workers wearing hard hats.

California has not approved an increase in the base excise tax on gas for 23 years, according to Brian Kelly, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency. As a result, the state faces a $130-billion backlog of repairs to state highways and bridges and local streets.

Brown said the plan is a pay-as-you-go proposal that would not burden future generations with debt.

“It improves the quality of our life. It’s good for the environment. It’s good for public transit. This is a good program, it’s the best we can figure out. And now there will be some critics who will say, ‘Oh, it costs money.’ Yes, it costs money, and if the roof on your house is leaking you better fix it because it gets worse all the time.”

De León said the proposal was long overdue.

“When it comes to funding transportation safety and road repairs, 14 legislatures have kicked the can down the crumbling and pothole-ridden road,” De León said. “California has become known for our brutal traffic jams and congestion.”

But Assembly and Senate Republicans released a joint statement opposing the plan. Assembly Republican leader Chad Mayes of Yucca Valley said the state should use existing funds to pay for the work.

“Californians deserve better,” he told reporters. “State government has mismanaged our transportation system for decades and the only response to that is that the Democrats, the ruling party here in California, want to raise taxes.”

Brown and legislative leaders have set a deadline of April 6, the day before the Legislature leaves on its spring break, to have the new package voted on by lawmakers.

De León and Rendon said they would get the votes needed for the bill, although the Senate leader said it might take weeks to get the bill to the governor’s desk.

Brown agreed that making the proposal is just the first step.

“We’ve got work to do,” he said. “Nothing is assured. Nothing is in the bag.”

Because Republicans have generally opposed the tax increases, the package may need the vote of every Democrat to get the two-thirds majority for passage. Three Democratic senators had been holding off their support before the new plan was released.

Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside) had indicated concerns that his district has not gotten its fair share of previous funding. To address that, much of the new funding is proposed to be allocated based on a formula aimed at making sure every part of the state gets its fair share. Roth and Sen. Steve Glazer (D-Concord) said through representatives that they want to review the details of the plan before deciding whether they can give it their support.

Kelly’s office planned Wednesday to give each legislator a customized estimate of how much the package would bring to his or her district.

Although the taxes and fees would be raised in perpetuity, the new revenue would be phased in, with $2.8 billion in new transportation revenues being collected through the early summer of 2018.

The average yearly revenue during the first 10 years would be $5.2 billion, and revenue would exceed $5.5 billion in 2022, according to H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the state Department of Finance.

The proposal to raise taxes and fees drew opposition Wednesday from Republican lawmakers including state Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa, who said it would especially hurt low-income people.

“These people need to get to work,” Moorlach said. “So we’re going to put the fixing of our roads on the backs of the poor. They are going to decide do they buy gas or do they buy food. I see it as an onerous and unfair proposal.”

Brown initially proposed a flat, $65 annual fee on all vehicles, but the new proposal lowers the burden on low-income residents, Kelly said. The Value Based Transportation Improvement Fee, which is charged annually in addition to the current vehicle registration fee, would be $25 for cars valued at less than $5,000, increasing gradually to $175 for cars worth $60,000 or more.

Half the cars in California are valued at less than $5,000, Kelly said. The fee “is more progressive now,” he said.

Brown had also initially proposed to use revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program, in which businesses are charged to pollute, but auctions for credits have not generated the money expected so far, so that idea was scrapped.

“There are a lot of questions now with the instability of that market,” Kelly said. “Until that is locked down, people can’t necessarily rely on the revenue source.”

The money was found by adjusting other taxes and fees.

The sales tax on diesel would increase four percentage points from the current 5.75% to 9.75%. Also, the diesel excise tax would go up 20 cents, from 16 cents per gallon to 36 cents per gallon.

Reforms are also included in the package, including regular audits, creation of a new inspector general post and a ballot measure that would guarantee all the new money would go to transportation.

Updates from Sacramento »

The plan also includes a $100 annual fee on electric cars that don’t pay gas taxes.

The tax and fee increases are unnecessary, said David Wolfe, legislative director for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Assn.

He noted that the state general fund has risen by $36 billion during the last six years and suggested some of that money should be spent on fixing the transportation system.

“The answer to solve this problem is not with new taxes that voters don’t want,” Wolfe said. “In order to restore trust with the voters, some effort should be spent on diverting other general fund monies to transportation that should have gone and historically have gone to transportation. The question is one of priorities.”

Some environmentalists objected to a provision inserted in the proposal that exempts the trucking industry from some air pollution regulations.

“It throws disadvantaged communities under the bus,” said Joshua Stark, a director for the transportation policy group TransForm. “We can’t support a deal that sacrifices public health for public transportation — California needs both."

Of the $52 billion to be raised the first 10 years, $30 billion would be evenly divided between state and local jurisdictions and used to fix and upgrade roads and highways.

An additional $4 billion over the decade would go to repairing state highway bridges and culverts.

In all, the money would enable the repair of 17,000 lane-miles of pavement, 500 bridges and 55,000 culverts during the first 10 years, Kelly said.

An additional $2.5 billion would be set aside during the first 10 years for solutions to congested commuting corridors, which Kelly said probably would include the 405 Freeway in Los Angeles County and the 101 Freeway in the Bay Area. Those funds would be awarded as competitive grants.

The same mechanism would apply to $3 billion proposed for improvements to trade corridors such as the truck-battered roads serving the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

Some lawmakers had complained that too much money was being proposed earlier for road repairs and not enough for improving mass transit.

The new package dedicates $7 billion during the first 10 years divided evenly between expansion of local public transit systems and operations of mass transit systems, with an additional $1 billion going to bicycle and pedestrian projects.


Twitter: @mcgreevy99

Lawmaker: Stem cell agency ‘boondoggle’ should end

By David Jensen

A California legislator has launched an effort to terminate the $3 billion California stem cell agency, which is already set to go out of business in about three years.

Republican state Sen. John Moorlach of Costa Mesa said in a video, “It’s time to shut this down….We as taxpayers need some protection. We need to stop the boondoggle.”

Moorlach has authored a proposed constitutional amendment that has been referred to the Senate Health Committee. No hearing date has been set. The measure would strip from the state constitution the language that created the agency in 2004.

The proposal, SCA 7, requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of the Legislature and approval by a vote of the people. Given the Democratic dominance of the Legislature, that makes the chances of enactment of SCA7 unlikely.

Nonetheless, Moorlach’s effort reflects the sentiments of a certain segment of the public. It also provides ammunition for those seeking to fund the agency with another $5 billion, which would additionally be placed before voters, probably in November 2018. It is useful for campaigns for such measures to be able to point to what they consider threats to science and medical progress.

Backers of a $5 billion bond measure are proposing it because the agency is slated to run out of cash for new research awards by June 2020.

Moorlach’s office produced a short statement in support of elimination of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or CIRM as the agency is formally known. It said, “California voters approved a ten year stem cell program that they thought would produce widespread cures and save thousands of lives. They were also promised revenue-producing intellectual property that would help the state financially. These remain empty promises.

“More than thirteen years after its passage, around $2 billion in funds have been dispersed and $1.2 billion has been spent on servicing the principal and interest of the debt . With a $1.6 billion dollar budget deficit and crumbling infrastructure, we need to stop the issuance of bonds on an ineffective and unaccountable agency. Scarce taxpayer funds could be of better use elsewhere.”

Asked for a comment on the legislation, an agency spokesman, Kevin McCormack, said, “We are aware of the bill and are monitoring it.”

Ed’s Note: David Jensen is a retired newsman who has followed the affairs of the $3 billion California stem cell agency since 2005 via his blog, the California Stem Cell Report, where this story first appeared.He has published more than 4,000 items on California stem cell matters in the past 11 years.

As feds seek more beds to lock up deportable immigrants, California may try to thwart them

By Ben Christopher

Trash-strewn cells, moldy showers, broken telephones, excessive use of solitary confinement and “slimy, foul-smelling lunch meat.”

These are the conditions that detainees face inside one of Southern California’s largest immigration detention facilities, according to a report this month by federal inspectors who visited the Theo Lacy Facility, an 11-acre jail complex run by the Orange County Sheriff’s Department.

For the past seven years, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has been renting bed space there. The county sheriff’s office collects roughly $30 million annually for leasing out the high-security real estate, and in exchange, ICE gets bunk space for roughly 480 of the more than 40,000 undocumented immigrants nationwide that the agency has been keeping behind bars on any given day.

The contract is an arrangement of convenience for a county in need of revenue and a federal government in need of jail beds.

The county disputes the critical inspection report from the Homeland Security Department’s Office of Inspector General. Sheriff Sandra Hutchens says that while “some legitimate issues were identified … and were quickly addressed,” many of the inspection’s findings were inaccurate, as was the subsequent “sensational” media coverage that provided “a misleading ‘Shawshank-like’ picture of Orange County jail facilities.”

Regardless, the news comes at a bad time for the Orange County Sheriff’s Department — and for all defenders of business-as-usual across the patchwork of county jails, city lockups and privately owned facilities across California that make up the state’s immigration detention system.

Reform bill

For state Sen. Ricardo Lara — whose immigration detention reform bill won the Legislature’s approval last year, only to be vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown — the inspection report provides a well-timed “I told you so.”

And so Lara, a Democrat from Bell Gardens, is back again this session with Senate Bill 29, which would set new rules for immigration detention facilities and would ban local governments from contracting with private prison companies to detain immigrants.

On Tuesday, March 28, it cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee.

While the state already regulates all detention facilities in California, Lara and other supporters of the bill argue that the national detention standards articulated in every ICE detention contract are not being followed.

This bill would not require the Board of State and Community Corrections, the agency that regulates California prisons and jails, to conduct additional inspections or adopt new rules. Instead, the bill aims to keep immigration facilities in line by allowing both current and former detainees and the state attorney general to sue any facilities that violate these standards.

But the bill also has sharp detractors among law enforcement agencies and many Republicans, who believe that claims of mismanaged detention facilities are overblown. They also argue that the state shouldn’t interfere with local law-enforcement decisions, and that Lara’s bill could have unintended, harmful consequences for local budgets — and even for the detainees themselves.

“Sacramento thinks it’s so smart and has to mandate things to everybody,” says GOP state Sen. John Moorlach, who represents Orange County and used to chair its Board of Supervisors. “I don’t think that’s good policy in this case, and I think being uncooperative with a federal agency is arrogance at its highest.”

The ultimate fate of Lara’s bill again may rest on the governor. With his first veto, Brown wrote that although he was troubled by reports of conditions at privately run facilities, he wanted to wait for a “more permanent solution” from the federal government.

(The Obama administration had announced plans to phase out contracts between the U.S. Bureau of Prisons and private prison corporations, and to reconsider its use of private immigration detention facilities. The Trump administration is moving in the opposite direction.)

Leased facilities

Although the U.S. immigration detention program is the largest single incarceration system in the country, its facilities are often leased. Of the 10 long-term immigration detention facilities in California, none is federally owned: five are county jails, one is a city facility, and the remaining four are owned and operated by for-profit companies.

Using data from public records requests and publicly available documents, interviews and site visits, the immigration rights group Community Initiatives for Visiting Immigrants in Confinement estimates that privately run jails make up 75 percent of all the bed space across California’s long-term immigration detention system.

Some of those incarcerated in this system have past criminal records, but immigration violations themselves are civil rather than criminal matters — and so detainees in immigration court are entitled to court-appointed legal counsel. Awaiting their hearings or deportation, detainees may spend weeks, months, or in rare cases years, in custody.

With President Trump making aggressive immigration enforcement a cornerstone of his presidency, ICE probably will need all the beds it can get.

Since his election, the stock prices of GEO Group and CoreCivic, the country’s two largest private prison and immigration detention operators, have increased by 87 percent and 125 percent, respectively.

“If there’s going to be a spike in detention in a relatively short period of time, recent history shows that the only way the government can actually detain those people is if private prisons provide the beds,” says Anita Sinha, an assistant professor of immigration and civil rights law at American University.

Not in California, if SB 29 prevails.

‘Inherently problematic’

“For-profit facilities are inherently problematic because they are incentivized to hold as many people as possible with the lowest standards in the cheapest manner allowed by law in order to maximize profits,” Lara said.

The bill would not interfere with existing contracts — nor with arrangements like the one between ICE and CoreCivic, which owns and operates the Otay Mesa facility in San Diego. But for the handful of California towns that act as middleman between ICE and private detention companies, SB 29 would mean the end of a potentially important source of revenue.

More than any other locality in the state, this describes Adelanto. Straddling a two-lane freight route 45 miles north of San Bernardino, the town used to be known for orchards and an Air Force base. Now the local industry is incarceration. Adelanto hosts three jails and prisons, with two more in the works.

Among the existing lockups is the privately operated Adelanto Detention Facility, which exclusively houses ICE detainees and is the largest immigration detention center in the state. Though it’s owned by GEO Group, which purchased the facility from the city for $28 million in 2011, the city of Adelanto still holds the ICE contract and receives $1 per day per bed in “mitigation fees.” That puts a little under $1 million per year toward a $40 million budget.

Between that facility and a nearby private jail, GEO Group hires roughly 100 locals in a city with a population of roughly 30,000 and a poverty rate of 40 percent.

But the facility has been a focal point of protest for immigrant rights activists. Since the Adelanto facility re-opened under GEO ownership in 2011, four ICE detainees in its custody have died, including a Nicaraguan immigrant who died this week in what authorities said was a suicide.

After the death of Raul Ernesto Morales-Ramos in 2015, who died after surgery for colon cancer that went undiagnosed for much of his time behind bars, a federal investigation censured the facility for shoddy record keeping, months-long delays in medical care, and medical personnel with minimal expertise and unsuitable training.

— Ben Christopher is a contributing writer to, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.


This e-mail has been sent by California State Senator John M. W. Moorlach, 37th District.

If you no longer wish to subscribe, just let me know by responding with a request to do so.

Follow me on Facebook & Twitter @SenatorMoorlach.