MOORLACH UPDATE — Fi$Cal Frustrations — March 28, 2019

Although I have publicly criticized in multiple Senate committee and budget hearings about Fi$Cal, the relatively new accounting software used by the State of California, this is the first time my frustrations have made it into print. And, fortunately (or regretfully), the reporter provided my more polite observations.

As someone who as a County Supervisor has observed abuses to taxpayers by software producers, I am not amused when providers string a client out and, in the case of Orange County, deliberately force a customer to spend more on unnecessary change orders. In the case of Tata, a disappointing county vendor, they paid a steep price for their stunt (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Four Absent Days — September 21, 2016). (Add their settlement, the largest in Orange County that year, to the record $800 million-plus in bankruptcy settlements, and I’ve had some fun results on the plaintiff’s side of the equation.)

California has paid nearly $1 billion for Fi$Cal! This is outrageous. And it is still not working satisfactorily. And it seems that no one is really being held accountable. Recently, the State Controller sent out a notice that this software may delay the issuance of the state’s CAFRs. The Sacramento Bee provides the details in the first piece below.

The Daily Journal requested a submittal from me on Gov. Newsom’s reprieve on the death penalty and it is the second piece below (see MOORLACH UPDATE — Death Penalty Reprieve — March 14, 2019).

California controller ‘gravely concerned’ about state’s $1 billion accounting program

By Wes Venteicher

State Controller Betty Yee is “gravely concerned” that problems with the state’s accounting software could undermine California’s credit worthiness, she wrote in a recent letter to legislators.

Efforts to tie a new computer program into the state’s legacy systems have delayed monthly cash reports and are threatening the accuracy of the state’s annual financial report, which is typically published at the end of April, Yee wrote.

If the annual report is inaccurate, it could negatively affect the state’s credit rating, which influences borrowing costs for spending on things like infrastructure projects.

The computer program, called Fi$Cal, has cost the state more than $900 million and has repeatedly been delayed since its 2005 launch. Yee, echoing a January recommendation from the state auditor, said more delays are needed.

“We need to pause and direct resources to making Fi$Cal work as it was intended to work,” she wrote. “Continuing to push ahead by adding features that do not work or bringing more departments into the troubled system will cost taxpayers exponentially more in the long run.”

Yee addressed the state Senate and Assembly budget committees in her March 18 letter.

Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, a member of the Assembly’s budget committee, said Yee’s letter should add new urgency to the state’s efforts to improve its use of technology.

“It’s amazing to me,” Patterson said. “We are the fifth-largest economy on the planet, we’re almost 20 years into the 21st century, we’re the home of Silicon Valley and we have such a fouled up accounting system that it jeopardizes our credit rating.”

Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who sits on the Senate budget committee, said the state should consider closer scrutiny of the third-party vendors tasked with implementing most of its new technology.

“It’s just getting to be too much of a common thing, whether it’s Fi$Cal or the DMV or name the department,” Moorlach said.

Yee sent a follow-up letter March 22 clarifying that while she is concerned about the state’s reporting abilities with the new program, she has “no concern about the state’s cash position or overall fiscal health.”

Gov. Newsom disrespects murder victims, their families and voters

By John M. W. Moorlach

Justice. It means giving people what they deserve. For stone-cold killers convicted in the justice system, passed through the appeals process and sitting on death row, justice actually is to be executed.

Executing them also is justice for the dead victims and their surviving families.

And it’s justice for our democracy, for the voters who backed the death penalty three times in recent years. They rejected two initiatives to repeal the death penalty, in 2012 and 2016, and in 2016 also backed an initiative to expedite the appeals of the death penalty.

All that was tossed aside by Gov. Gavin Newsom when he gave reprieves to the 737 convicted murderers on death row. He said, “I cannot sign off on executing hundreds and hundreds of human beings.” But no one was asking him to. The governor’s job is to diligently review each case as it approaches the date of execution, not all of them at once.

Only 13 murderers were executed in California between 1978, when the death penalty was reinstated in California, and 2006 – none since. Five each were executed under Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, and three under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. Davis, like Newsom, is a Democrat.

So under Newsom, the highest number of executions might have been five. Moreover, Newsom’s reprieve could be reversed by his successor in four or eight years.

Let’s look at the last person executed, Clarence Ray Allen. While incarcerated in Folsom State Prison for murdering Mary Kitts, he arranged for the murders outside of Byron William Schletewitz, who had testified against him, and Josephine Rocha and Douglas White, who were working in the same place.

After Allen received justice in 2006, Schletewitz’ family issued a statement that read, “It has taken 30 years from the burglary of Fran’s Market to this night for Clarence Allen to receive his just punishment. The Schletewitz family wishes to express gratitude to the men and women who stood by our families to ensure a just end to Clarence Allen’s destruction of lives.”

Newsom maintained the death penalty “has provided no public safety benefit or value as a deterrent.” But if Allen had been executed swiftly, after his first conviction, the other three victims never would have been murdered. And the other 12 killers executed in California in recent decades also didn’t commit further crimes.

Next, let’s look at someone Newsom just took off the Green Mile, Randy Kraft, also known as the Scorecard Killer, the Southern California Strangler and the Freeway Killer. According to the Los Angeles Times summary, “Kraft killed 16 young men between 1972 and 1983, sexually mutilating some of them and leaving their bodies by the roadside. Six of the men were Marines. Most of the victims had been drugged with alcohol and prescription relaxants. Kraft was discovered when he was pulled over for drunk driving and officers found a dead man in the passenger seat.”

According to Wikipedia, “Kraft is also believed to have committed the rape and murder of up to 51 other boys and young men.”

For the citizens of California, justice is to execute these killers. Naturally, constitutional safeguards must be followed. The U.S. Supreme Court has set up these safeguards, while affirming the constitutionality of the death penalty for what the Constitution calls a “capital” crime.

“It’s a racist system,” Newsom said on CBS This Morning. “You cannot deny that.” But according to the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which he now administers, of the 13 executed since 1979, 10 were white, two black and one “other.”

And if Newsom thought too many of one group were being executed, he could have given reprieves to them, while continuing the executions of those in other groups.

Just last year during his campaign, a Newsom spokesperson said that, while he was personally opposed to the death penalty, “he recognizes that California voters have spoken on the issue and, if elected governor, he’d respect the will of the electorate by following and implementing the law.”

As an accountant, I also look at the cost to the taxpayers. California’s counties and elected district attorneys paid an average of $1 million to put each inmate on death row, for a total of $737 million. I believe the Governor owes these counties $737 million in reimbursements, plus interest, which could double the cost.

The governor also brought up the concern that there might be innocent people on death row. Then he should propose in the May Revision of his budget an amount of money to advance a quick appeals process for all of them. If any are proven innocent, then let’s get them out of prison as soon as possible. For the rest, expedite the execution instead of dragging it on for years or decades.

The electorate might again get to flex its will. Assemblymember Marc Levine, D-Los Angeles, has sponsored Assembly Constitutional Amendment 12, which would abolish the death penalty, if approved by voters in 2020.

I’m curious to see the votes on ACA 12 of the new Democratic Assemblymembers and state Senators who came to Sacramento after last November’s Blue Wave.

Will they side with Newsom or with the voters of California, especially those still suffering families and friends of murder victims?

John M. W. Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, represents the 37th District in the California Senate

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