Friday, December 10, 2010
Lobbying 101: I say 'squirrel'
With the travesty in mismanagement at the city of Bell, Sacramento budget disasters, government regulations choking business at every level of our lives, under-funded public pensions and a sluggish economy that – shocking – can’t seem to recover, we now hear the words: “And what we need is more transparency in government!” Sheesh.
Frankly, what we need is LESS government, LESS regulation, LESS red tape, but I digress.
Recently the O.C. Grand Jury decided that O.C. needed an ordinance regulating lobbyists because “everyone else has it; why shouldn’t we.” Well, sure. We have about 15 honest-to-goodness professional O.C. “lobbyists” in the traditional definition of the word: those who promote or secure the passage of legislation by persuading public officials. In Los Angeles and San Diego – bastions of transparency and good government – they have formal lobbying ordinances requiring registration and reporting of all lobbying activities.
In Orange County, Supervisor Bill Campbell recognized that we are rather unique with our onerous TINCUP gift bans and political contribution reporting, so he proposed testing a rather limited lobbying ordinance, which OCBC supported. Professional lobbyists would register and report on who their clients were. Simple. It could always be expanded if needed but was an OK first start for a county that didn’t have a lobbying ordinance. And a small fee (surprise!) would be paid by the lobbyist registering.
It shockingly failed to win support from the rest of the O.C. supervisors for a variety of reasons, most of which were that it wasn’t all-encompassing enough! Let’s include everybody.
So, Supervisors Bates and Nelson proposed an outrageously expansive ordinance that would have taken those 15 lobbyists and added 12,000 O.C. nonprofit organizations, landowners, utilities, unions, building trades, small-business owners, residents – frankly almost everyone in Orange County would have qualified to report as a lobbyist under their proposal if you had anything to do with a “public official.” Not an “elected public official.” Any “public official.” If you wanted to remodel your kitchen and your contractor asked the county planning for your permit in three days instead of five, for example, you and your contractor would have had to register as lobbyists! Think of the expanded fee base here.
Fortunately, this didn’t pass muster with the other supervisors and the drafting of an appropriate ordinance has been sent to county counsel and the county CEO for consideration, and is set to be brought back in 60 days.
Now enter, stage left, Sen. Lou Correa with his very first bill – on the state’s failed economy? On jobs creation? On regulatory relief? No. On requiring all local government agencies to have a lobbying ordinances: SB 31. Not just Orange County, but water districts, school districts, sanitation districts, flood control districts and transportation agencies. Everyone gets the fun of drafting an ordinance, folks registering, reporting, paying and government collecting fees.
"At a time when the state is facing tough economic times, this is when you really have to look at how you're doing business and think about doing things in a better way," said Correa. "And a great way to start is transparency in government."
Really? I guess working on the stuff that would put folks back to work is just beyond comprehension. It’s so politically correct to go after lobbyists. Well, lobbyists didn’t cause the problems in Bell, or the O.C. bankruptcy or vote in so many California regulations that we are at the bottom of the list of “business-friendly” states in the union.
I say “SQUIRREL.” Californiasquirrel.com. What do you think?
Monday, November 29, 2010
Obamacare: facts vs. hype
On Nov. 9, the Register's Opinion pages published opposing views on health-care reform ("Is it time to dismantle health reform law?"), one of which mentioned Orange County Business Council research by Wallace Walrod. OCBC's report, cited in the piece by Daniel Zingale of the California Endowment, was an initial assessment compiled to understand how health-care reform, and its costs and benefits will impact California businesses, which can be viewed here.
Like the vast majority of the California business community, OCBC and its members are still assessing the true impacts. Our research found that there may be benefits, but there are still many questions, costs and concerns.
OCBC shares the concerns voiced by the author of the companion piece, Sally Pipes of the Pacific Research Institute, about how reform will be implemented. For example, a primary concern of the business community is uncertainty regarding employer insurance costs. Early estimates of impacts range from moderate to severe.
Another concern expressed by many businesses focused on so-called "Cadillac Plan" taxes that hit businesses, but not unions. Cadillac Plans refer to employer-sponsored health insurance benefits that exceed $10,200 for individuals or $27,500 for a family. California employers rely on generous medical benefits to help attract and retain top employees. Many factors, such as having an older worker population or being located in a high-cost metropolitan area, are not under an employer's control.
Other areas of concern include: coverage of adult children of employees until the age of 26 (a practice 6 percent of companies now offer); auto-enrollment of new hires (12 percent of companies do this); coverage of part-time workers, which may actually cause businesses to stop hiring; and the effect on state and federal budgets (costs are primarily front-loaded, and projected benefits come over time).
Finally, as mentioned by Pipes, the effect of the IRS Form 1099 requirement for every vendor with more than $600 in annual business expenses is especially burdensome for small California businesses.
The full OCBC report is posted at ocbc.org/research.cfm. We will conduct further research to expand and refine these findings.
There are many outstanding questions yet to be addressed before any health-care reform can be implemented successfully in California. Our initial research was just the beginning, educating both pro-reform advocates as well as opponents. In a time of unprecedented economic uncertainty and record high unemployment, dialogue based upon facts is key.
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Budget stalemate: When will it end?
Why is it that we Californians will watch a freeway chase of a car going nowhere fast? Fascinated with the police chase? Waiting for action, even a potential crash? Hoping for the ultimate real-time capture?
Oh for the same attention to Sacramento elected leaders in their “chase” of an illusive, timely, balanced state budget! But officials' glacial pace at solving legitimate problems of crisis proportion and budgetary inaction has become the “new normal” – and the equivalent of watching paint dry.
California's economy is the largest of any state in the U.S. and is the eighth largest economy in the world. Is it not absolutely outrageous that elected leaders can’t seem to put a budget together in a timely fashion? Frankly, at this point almost any budget – including a “kick-the-can-down-the-street-until-the-next-governor” – budget would be better than none. Beyond the partisan snipes and ideological warfare, this state’s millions of residents suffer while our legislators blithely attend to fundraising and upcoming election activity. Where is the constituent outrage?
Well, we’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it anymore!
Leaders who profess to be “for jobs” are systematically putting tens of thousands of people out of work, in both the public and private sectors. Without a budget, the state cannot operate. And let’s be perfectly clear: This is not an issue of not having enough money. The debate may rage about how much we need and what to spend it on, but the basic fact remains that there is money available to pay salaries, suppliers and bills. But because there’s no budget, bills can’t be paid.
For example, as of Sept. 20, Caltrans no longer has access to money to pay its vendors on critical transportation infrastructure projects – $9 billion worth of state projects already under way. These projects will stop. About $2.1 billion worth of new projects are ready to go, but the contracts can’t be let without a budget. Plus, another $1 billion of bond money that has been authorized by voters for infrastructure, but the general-fund chaos affects the ability of the state to sell those bonds. This $3 billion does not even account for the waste of money caused by stopping projects and then restarting later, the inability to secure low-cost bids now when the economy has driven down costs or the utter devastation to small business vendors that are barely holding on as it is, let alone having to “subsidize” the state of California’s failure to pay its bills.
Lest you think your own life isn’t affected, how about this little consequence: The state’s budget makes it problematic to pay for CHP to perform safety duty during nighttime freeway improvements. Solution? Night projects are stopped; more workers furloughed. Further, this is the time of year that Caltrans buys cinders, salt and bulk fuel for winter road maintenance and snow removal. No budget, no supplies. No supplies, no snowplows during tourist season. No tourists, ski resorts suffer, and the multiplier effects continue. And trucks transporting goods over the I-5 Grapevine in winter? Not a chance.
And education payment deferrals for local schools, city and county government funding raids, housing, safety net, DMV offices closed ... the list goes on and on.
To rephrase Howard Beale from the movie “Network,” I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot. Recognize that California has value, even if our elected leaders seem indifferent to its people’s suffering. Get mad! Demand action of your legislator and the governor to get it done NOW.
And be sure to vote Nov. 2.
Click here for more from Lucy Dunn.
Friday, September 03, 2010
Disneyland lawsuit centers on 'costume'
Recently, Orange County's biggest private employer has been in the spotlight over a suit filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by Imane Boudlal, a restaurant hostess working at Disneyland citing religious discrimination. Boudlal, who has worked at Disneyland for the past two years, recently obtained her U.S. citizenship and began wearing a hijab last week to work. She was asked to remove the headscarf or work in another job at Disneyland. She refused and went home.
Every business has the right to create guidelines, policies and regulations to better serve its customers, in addition to better protecting themselves. Companies like Disney work hard to ensure their products and services continuously meet certain standards, their mission and the brand that generations have grown to love over the last 55 years.
On key issues, opinion will present a variety of timely opinions in a pro-con format to give readers a quick cross-section of viewpoints.
The bottom line is simple: Not only were legitimate dress rules in place when she applied for her job, but she agreed to them and signed on the dotted line to abide by them as a condition of her employment. Disneyland is known internationally for its culture. Park patrons are "guests." Disneyland is "the show." Employees are "cast members" who wear "costumes," not uniforms. They are "on stage" when working with the public. "The Disney Look" – a branded, clean-cut image, synonymous with Mickey Mouse himself – is given to prospective cast members in a pamphlet that is agreed to by the employees as work begins. So why, after two years of working without a hijab, and without a previous request for accommodation, does Boudlal decide unilaterally that she did not want to keep her agreement with her employer?
Disneyland, to its credit, tried to accommodate her with appropriate headwear consistent with her new religious practices. She was insulted. Disney offered her several "backstage" job opportunities where she could wear the hijab, jobs comparable to her "onstage" job. She refused via her union representative.
Clearly, this is not discrimination against Boudlal in particular or the Muslim community in general – it is one company's decision to set forth guidelines that deter ANY religious clothing or symbols worn in plain sight of a guest that may alter his experience of its brand and services that make up "the show."
So what are the real issues here? Another union dispute masquerading as religious freedom? A publicity stunt? A play for settlement money through litigation?
"The Constitution tells me I can be Muslim, and I can wear the headscarf," Boudlal said. "Who is Disney to tell me I cannot?"
I recall another old-timer saying: "In America, you can do anything you want, you just can't do everything." You can work at Disney "on stage" in a specific costume, or you can work at Disney wearing your headscarf, but you can't do both.
With 12.3 percent unemployment in California – really more like 20 percent if the underemployed and those who have just given up are included – Hijab-gate is just another example of a dysfunctional culture that caters to litigation and protection of "my rights" but no duty to "my responsibilities."
There are hundreds of thousands of Californians out of a job, any one of which might like the opportunity new-citizen Boudlal has enjoyed.
Click here for more from Lucy Dunn.
Thursday, June 17, 2010
OCTA teaches jobs creation 101
You know the facts: Nationally, about 370,000 government jobs were just “created” versus only 41,000 private-sector jobs. With a real state unemployment rate nearing 20 percent (counting those underemployed and those folks who just “gave up looking”), California needs 2 million jobs right now.
Even Orange County – damning by faint praise with “only” a 9.5 percent unemployment rate – has lost almost 175,000 jobs, with the transportation sector down more than 40 percent.
But good news for new jobs is here to share. Under the leadership of city of Orange Mayor Carolyn Cavecche, who also serves on Orange County Transportation Authority’s board of directors, a new policy has been unanimously adopted. OCTA now has established as its target that 100 percent of all professional services allowed will be contracted to the private sector!
We’re talking local projects, highway projects and freeway projects, all projects, which in the past, have been divided between Caltrans using its in-house staff and OCTA using private firms to perform the work.
That doesn’t mean Caltrans doesn’t get any work; rather the OCTA “target” is to favor the private sector, with each project looked at for its own unique needs and expertise, with appropriate staff recommendations to the board – the right workers for the right project.
What is shocking is that more local transportation authorities haven’t established this policy to help their own local economies. Clearly, they have the authority to do so under Proposition 35, passed by California voters in November 2000, where local and state agencies have the “choice and authority” to use private-sector services. Furthermore, that choice and authority exists regardless of funding sources, regardless of what agency programs the project and regardless of whether the plan is part of a state-owned or operated facility, like a freeway.
In addition, opponents of Proposition 35 – mostly government unions – have used every conceivable lawsuit and legal argument to set it aside in court, but in the end, every court at every level, including the California Supreme Court twice unanimously, has rejected all of those legal challenges and upheld the provisions of the measure.
Let’s call it “The Cavecche Principle” – get your own local transportation authority to pass this policy and help lead a statewide movement to put folks back to work, starting with each of our own local economies.
Our legislators can’t do it. The government unions won’t do it. So let’s just do it ourselves.
Click here for more from Lucy Dunn.