Archive | June, 2012

They’re in the catbird seat now – but the “paycheck protection” initiative may throw public employee unions out on their ears

30 Jun

I was glad to see Wisconsin throw out collective bargaining – a system that specifically denies public participation in the bargaining process – and I’ll be equally thrilled when Californians pass the “Paycheck Protection” Initative. This initiative would prohibit – prohibit! – the government, including the city of Chico, from deducting union dues from government employee paychecks that will be used for political purposes. It will also ban contributions to “candidate controlled” committees by corporations and labor unions. Furthermore – and this seems like a no brainer – it will ban contractors who receive government contracts from donating to the officeholder who awarded the contract. Now, that last one is interesting – remind me to get back to that.

Currently, both Chico Police and Chico Fire employees have union dues collected from their paychecks by the city of Chico paymaster, whether they are union members or not. These fees go to the Chico Police Officers Association and the Chico Firefighters Legislative Action Group, both registered with the city of Chico as Political Action Committees. These fees have, in past elections, been the biggest donations to any candidates. But the romance seemed to fizzle as the council  started to balk at these groups’ salary and pension demands in the face of a deepening deficit.  In the last couple of elections, neither PAC has solidly endorsed any candidate. The CPOA instead produced a slick video portraying Chico as an urban style crime area that was not properly funding it’s “public safety” organizations and released it at election time over youtube and through an e-mail campaign.

I don’t know if these tactics have any effect on the voters, but they sure made their mark on council, who has yet to take a firm stance with either Chico PD or Fire, giving in to wage increase demands and allowing structured overtime to run average salaries over $100,000 a person, with retirement at 50 years of age,  90 percent of their highest year’s pay, including overtime, and paying less than 25 percent of their benefits package. 

I believe large PAC’s have ruined our elections, and the idea that our “public servants” would use forcibly conscripted money to mount campaigns to enrich themselves with public funds is unacceptable.  The other employee unions have also played heavily in the disenfranchisement of the Chico voter – the SEIU and the nurses union were the biggest donors to the “No on Measure A” campaign back in June 2011. They all get conscripted union dues from non-union employees. These employees are NOT considered members and are NOT allowed to vote on these matters. 

This initiative seeks not only to ban conscripted dues but to ban contributions to candidate controlled committees  by these union PACs. Of course, this doesn’t seem to matter, given that these PACs, as illustrated above, are free to mount their own campaign on behalf of or against a candidate. But, it’s a nice thought. 

Now, at the end, it says, “ban contractors who receive government contracts from donating to the officeholder”. Like I said, this seems like a no-brainer. But look – we have the police and fire department and the other employee unions  in our town, who fill the definition of “contractors.” They “contract” with us, don’t they? But they are allowed to donate to officeholders, both as  PACs and as individuals.   I don’t imagine this is what the authors of this initiative have in mind, but I think there could be a good argument made in court that no public employee should be allowed to donate to the campaign of politicians who hire them. 

I’ve been reading some interesting buzz on this issue. According to tax-happy Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Morain, the state’s public employee unions are finding themselves “torn between donations to support the (Jerry Brown) tax hike, and donations to defeat another measure…the “Paycheck Protection” initiative…”  Apparently, they are short of funds to fight both, or at least, that’s what they want us to believe. I  think these unions are LOADED – they’ll pour gazillions into both measures, they’re absolutely DESPERATE to hang on to their position in the catbird seat – and fund their pensions.

Morain believes this initiative would “strip them (the unions) of their ability to raise and spend money on campaigns.”  Strip them? You mean,  force the unions to get their money by asking for it instead of stealing it from people’s paychecks?  You mean, they’d have to support candidates who actually share their views instead of buying them off?

You mean they’d have to compete with the rest of the voters, who’ve lately been shoved out of these elections by the ridiculous price tag? 

I hope Morain is right, I hope the employee unions are going bust, in a handbasket. But I’ll believe it when I see it.  Already, the California Teacher’s Union has put $1.5 million, the SEIU $1 million, the federal and state federation of teachers almost $2 million into the campaign to raise the sales/income tax. According to “ballotpedia”, the “No” campaign for the Paycheck Protection initiative has already raised over $6 million – this mainly from the the California School Employees Association, with only $500,000 coming from the California Labor Federation,  made up of private sector employees.

Let’s talk about this more tomorrow (Sunday July 1) at the library, 11:30 am.

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Chico Taxpayer’s Meeting Sunday, 11:30, Chico library. And don’t forget – Friday’s the last day to get your Utility Tax rebate.

25 Jun

Fourth of July is coming up, next Wednesday! I hope to see some of you in the conga line over to Hamilton City to pick up your Independence Day paraphernalia – don’t forget to hit El Patio for some chips and salsa.

The Fourth is my favorite holiday, and I like to celebrate. This Sunday I will be over at the library at 11:30 am for a meeting of the Chico Taxpayers Association. I’d like to compare notes about the November ballot sales tax hike initiative.  Jerry Brown’s original proposal has been toned down and merged with the so-called “Millionaire’s Tax.”  This hybrid would raise California’s sales tax from 7.25% to 7.5%,  while also raising income tax rates on individuals earning over $250,000 –  creating three new high-income tax brackets for taxpayers with taxable incomes exceeding $250,000, $300,000, and $500,000. I think the rhetoric in this campaign will be interesting. 

We’ll also compare any notes we have on the telephone tax, but we probably won’t have much to chew on  until the proponents – led by Mayor Ann Schwab – hand over their ballot arguments. 

REMEMBER! This Friday will be your last opportunity to get your Utility Tax rebate for 2012, those of you who qualify might want to hustle on down there. I heard from Dave, who said he went in and got his exemption – GO DAVE! I think anybody who has qualified two or more years in a row should be eligible for an exemption, to be renewed with documentation every three to five years, like the low-income rate assistance programs offered by PG&E, Cal Water and the phone companies. But, if wishes were horses, we’d all be hip-deep in horse crap, wouldn’t we? 

I realize, if you work 8 – 5 you can’t get your rebate in person. But, I’d also say, if you have more than two people in your household, you will probably find it’s worth the trouble to copy your bills – especially PG&E – and mail them in. You’d only need the first page, and you can do two-sided copies. It shouldn’t take more than two stamps to mail the whole mess. Remember to blot out your SSN’s on the copy of the first page of your tax return. 

And remember, it’s not about the money, it’s about the message.

Yes we can and should rewrite current contracts to rein in pensions

15 Jun

I’ve heard a lot of lame talk lately –  our local newspaper editors, local politicians and wannabes saying we can’t correct the insane contracts that were made behind our backs with our public employees, state and local.

Well, they lie.  The voters of San Jose and San Diego just voted to cut pensions of their retired workers.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/07/us/politics/san-diego-and-san-jose-pass-pension-cuts.html?pagewanted=all

All the contracts are up this year – they’re discussing the “public safety” contracts right now. They’ve agreed to change the way they calculate overtime,  to the benefit of Chico PD and Fire, not the taxpayers.

Before you DARE to use the word “renege,” let me remind you, these contracts were written behind closed  doors, before the city introduced the current “sunshine” clause that forces them to show the contracts to us, the public, before they agree to them. Read that again – they just have to show them to us, we don’t get any choice. We can write them letters til we’re blue in the face – Jim Walker and Andy Holcombe have both admitted at least umpteem million times that they give the public an audience and then vote however they were going to vote in the first place. Mary Goloff says if you want to be in on the contract discussions, you can just get yourself elected to city council. Those were almost her exact words to me at a meeting one night.

Around 2003, the sitting council signed a contract that tied city employees pay to INCREASES IN REVENUE BUT NOT DECREASES. We the taxpayers were not even shown that agreement, and by the time we found out about it, Jennifer Hennessy had already struck up the Titanic band for her rendition of “We’re sinking but I still get a $14,000 raise…”

I never made these promises, I never even saw them, but I am expected to foot the bill.

Excuse me, TO HELL WITH THAT!

The contracts need to be rewritten. They need to CUT STRUCTURED OVERTIME FROM THE COPS AND FIRE. They need to make ALL EMPLOYEES PAY 90 PERCENT OF THEIR PENSION AND BENEFITS, with a larger city portion for those who choose to be loyal and stay more than 10 years. They need to show us the contracts, we need to have some of those “workshops.” We need to get our financial house in order around these EMBEZZLERS. 

We the taxpayers need to write letters and DEMAND THIS. Schwab and Evans want to get re-elected. Tell them you won’t pay more taxes to foist these contracts. The police contracts are available for viewing right now – they are saying they are cutting costs, but their contract shows a definite pay raise.

Wake up people, these leeches are sucking off the public tit, and it’s time to do like the momma pig – GET UP AND MAKE A RUN FOR IT, THOSE WHO DON’T LET GO GET TRAMPLED.

Chula Vistans still suing their city leaders over illegal phone tax takings

14 Jun

Thanks Casey Aplanalp for keeping the cell phone tax in the news with letters to the ER – he reminds us, the city has been “siphoning off an additional $900,000 every year from taxes not levied, mainly from mobile devices, illegally.”

They got caught, so now this “phone tax” proposition has been written to legalize this plunder and include what they already take, and then some.”

Yes, this is the city of Chico’s motive behind the cell phone tax that will appear on November’s ballot – like a child, caught with her hand in the cookie jar, Ann Schwab immediately asks to change the rules.

A similar proposition was brought before the citizens of Chula Vista California,  seeking to extend their UUT to include “Skype, prepaid cellphones, teleconferencing apps for tablets 
and smartphones…” according to attorneys for the city.    The voters not only resoundingly defeated the measure, but turned around to sue the city for the money that had been taken illegally. Unfortunately, that suit, filed in 2010, will not be heard in court until January 2013.  Here’s a link to the latest story I could find on that, from March. I will follow this and keep you posted.

http://www.cglaw.com/viewdoc599.html

Thanks Mark Sorensen for speaking to Chico Taxpayers Association

4 Jun

Yesterday Mark Sorensen was good enough to come down to the Chico library to fill in a group of interested citizens on some of the facts regarding the November phone tax increase measure. But, we probably won’t get alot out of the council or the city attorney’s office until August 7, when they are due to turn their “impartial analysis” and ballot arguments in to the city clerk’s office. 

Until then, we are left with a lot of speculation. But the important fact remains – this measure will raise the taxes of every city resident who owns “mobile messaging devices” – specifically , for now, cell phones. 

Councilor Sorensen explained to us that the city is very desperate to pass this measure because they have already been receiving this tax and are heavily dependent on the revenue – some $900,000 a year, in fact. Some cell phone providers, AT&T the most prominent, have already been collecting the tax for an undisclosed number of years, without any legal grounds to back them up aside from the fact that they make up your bill and you don’t ask any questions. The city has been receiving this ill-gotten gain, knowingly,  for years, in violation of our own code, which only allows for the taxing of land lines.  

I can hear the question forming in your mind Joseph – how the HELL do they get away with this shit!?!  It’s the psychic connection -oh oh – think they’ll find a way tax that? 

Well, we’re not the only ones. This is happening in cities around California. Because of a man named Donald Sipple, it’s been brought to the attention of the courts, if not the media. Mr. Sipple has sued AT&T, and won, and in turn, AT&T has had to sue the cities over which Mr. Sipple sued them. The case is still a big mess in the courts, because, despite two rulings to the effect that the money was taken from those city residents illegally, those cities will simply not return the money. 

Anyhoo, this is why the city is so desperate and so dishonest in handling this phone tax increase – they actually do stand to lose $900,000, in General Fund money, no less – the unrestricted kind! And yeah, if this measure doesn’t pass, they are left red-handed.

My-oh-my, how embarrassing for Ann Schwab and Dave Burkland. They know this, but they have made no attempt to tell the voters. Instead they try to tell us they are lowering our taxes and making everything fair for everyone. 

Tsk tsk! If they told the truth on this ballot measure, it would never get off the launch pad.  How can a  tax that is collected off of one very specific portion of the population – those folks whose cell phones are billed to a city address – but goes to pay for infrastructure and services that are enjoyed by everybody who uses our town – whether college students with a phone billed to their parents in LA or folks who work here with phones billed to a mansion in Forest Ranch – be  “fair for everyone” ?

We’ll have to see how they explain this when they come out with their “impartial analysis” in August. Until then, we need to study this issue among ourselves and try to get ready for the debate in the fall.  If you want to keep up on the agendas be sure to subscribe to Mark’s feed:

http://chicoagenda.wordpress.com/

Learn the truth about the city’s proposed phone tax hike – it’s a G-snatch!

3 Jun

Well, best meeting EVER. It just keeps getting better, Folks. A wonderful group who was there to work, that’s what it takes.

Mark Sorensen answered some questions this morning, but raised others.  There is so much about the phone tax increase measure that does not make sense. And where can we get the answers? Our city attorney seems to be making the whole thing as convoluted as possible, I don’t think we can count on her for any help. She’s not our attorney anyway, she’s there to protect $taff and council from  us. “$taff” would include herself.

The first and foremost thing everybody needs to know about this measure is that it will INCREASE our taxes. While the text of the ballot proposition, in the first sentence, claims to be lowering our tax, it is also broadening the definition of what  can be taxed, therefore, increasing our  taxes.

City Attorney Lori Barker’s first measure was so deceptive she was asked to rewrite it. The newer version is more truthful, but still pretty vague:

“Shall an ordinance be adopted to amend the City’s Telephone User’s Tax in order to: 1) reduce the tax rate from 5% to 4.5%; 2) modernize the definition of telephone communication services subject to the tax to include new technologies such as wireless and voice over internet services; 3) apply the tax to all telephone communications regardless of the type of technology used; and 4) reflect changes to federal and state law? 

Yes, the new rate will be half a percent lower – Big  Flopping Whoopie.  And, there you see it, this tax will “include new technologies such as” Such as, when you read along in the report Barker made, includes whatever the Finance Director wants it to.

No, you can’t read the report unless you got a copy from the city clerk  before she took it off the website. I don’t know why it’s not on the website. In fact, I don’t know why there’s no records on the website right now for any meeting between December 2009 and the agenda that is posted for this coming Tuesday’s meeting. You can see the agendas on the viewer, where you watch the videos of the meetings, but no reports.  The reports are all taken off the website after the meeting, you have to ask the clerk if you want to see the reports. I just happen to have the copy she sent me before the meeting – I signed up to receive this stuff, or I wouldn’t have it.  I’d have to go Downtown and PAY to get a copy from the clerk.

They are being deceptive on this tax increase measure because they know if the voters get all the facts it will fail. They might even have to pay back the money they’ve been collecting illegally through AT&T for years.

http://semichorus.wordpress.com/2011/08/27/burbank-owes-its-cellphone-users-1001766-in-tax-refunds-that-they-refuse-to-pay/

They stand to lose big, so get ready for some pretty desperate measures and some cheap and dirty fighting.

Where’s that $255,000? Nobody’s talkin’!

1 Jun

Well, aren’t I a dork!?! I promised everybody there would be a big discussion at next Tuesday’s council meeting, regarding that missing, well, at this point, it’s only $255,000.  Actually, it’s more complicated than that – if you’ve  been following the deficit discussion for the last five years you better have laid down bread crumbs or you are lost on the other side of some far away planet trying to figure out “how we got here.”

Jennifer Hennessy, Miss Finance MisDirector, has been leading us on a merry tramp these last five or six years, pretending to explain why we are perennially short of money, but not really doing so. Lately she’s been telling us one thing when it’s time for her re-evaluation and raise, and then another, BAD  thing a few months down the road. I’ll never forget a few years back – she was allowed to hire her own evaluator, and then when he gave her a good evaluation, she gave herself a $14,000 raise. Of course council approved the raise, but by the time the rubber stamp was dry, she was telling us we were up Shit Creek without a paddle again. She keeps losing that goddam paddle, and then finding one to suit her when she pleases. I think her husband makes those paddles in the garage. 

So, when council was confronted with a mob at the last meeting, they quickly agreed to a “discussion” of why Hennessy would say everything was just Jim Dandy earlier in the year, but by May, we’re closing a fire station. Gosh, there are so many worms in this can, it’s almost impossible to move without stepping on them.

The fire station was closed as a grand stand gesture by a chief who was told he had to come up with the missing money. The chief could have restructured overtime to find that money, in fact, if the fire department would agree to DUMP STRUCTURED IN OVERTIME, they could hire more staff. But the current employees want their salaries and overtime and their spiked pensions, so the chief just closed a fire station to piss off the public, trying to force the council to give up MORE MONEY TO THE SECOND BIGGEST DEPARTMENT IN THE CITY. This city spend 89 % of it’s budget on “public safety”. Sorry Chief Beery, your buttcrack is showing. 

But, Toby Schindelbeck, Will Clark, and Ken Campbell are right in this – the city is hiding malfeasance. 

What we have here, is a bunch of tigers fighting over money. I hope they all chase each other around a tree until they turn into butter. PANCAKES FOR EVERYBODY!

But, when I read the upcoming agenda, I realized, there’s going to be no such “discussion” – see here:

http://www.chico.ca.us/government/minutes_agendas/documents/6-5-12CityCouncilAgendaPacket.pdf

I wrote a letter to council, asking for a better report about this mess:

Hi All,

 we were promised a report with figures regarding this missing $255,000. There’s no report in the agenda I received. 
 
When will we get a precise explanation of all the figures that don’t make sense? I try to share the “facts” with the public when I speak about these issues, but getting the “facts” out of staff and council is like pulling teeth. 
 
We are expected to sit through another discussion of “sustainability indicators,” presented by a staffer making more than $100,000 a year with slick glossy photos and all kinds of groovy charts – how much did THAT cost? Ann, you couldn’t even get a quorum of the STF to endorse that report, and THAT’S A FACT! 
 
If we don’t get “facts” regarding this latest “shortfall” we’re going to have to run on assumptions. I assume Ann Schwab has presided over an embezzlement, and until I hear some convincing arguments to the contrary, that’s going to be the “facts.” 
 
Thanks, Juanita Sumner, Chico 
As far as I’m concerned, this is the “facts” – Ann Schwab has presided over the economic degradation of our town, watching silently while staffers and other hangers on empty our coffers with their crazy salary agreements and “you scratch my back”contracting practices. Ann’s sustainability task force has cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, with nothing to show for itself but onerous restrictions on practicing business or living in the city of Chico. This woman needs to be shown the back door in November, and given a  toe to the seat of her pants.
UPDATE, 6/5/12, 8:30pm –  Chief Beery is explaining that he closed Station 5 when he was faced with a $95,000 shortfall because Station 5 is not really essential. He claims it was built to serve development at “Bidwell Ranch,” which was never built out. Beery says he never would have built Station 5 in that location. 
Beery’s presentation has been rambling and repetitive, mostly to the point that we can’t live without Chico Fire. We are supposed to call them when our water pipe breaks in the middle of the night he says – I’m sorry, I would shut off my main water valve, and go back to bed. He says we’re supposed to call Chico Fire when we have a “miocardial infarction” – why? Why wouldn’t I call an ambulance? 
I’m not happy with the reports given tonight. There was no written back up, they’ve been rambling all over the countryside without really explaining why they are perennially over spent Downtown. 
And now Andy Holcombe is taking the old Caddy around the block. Beery is answering with computer modeling and national averages. Let’s talk about what the truck really roll out for in Chico – broken water pipes? Ambulance runs? Hook and ladder to Safeway?  Response time to WHAT? 
To best address the needs of this community, the Fire Department needs to change their staffing policies and dump structured overtime. Regular people work swing shift and graveyard for the same wages as their day shift counter parts. It’s time for the night shifts to get paid regular wages instead of overtime. Overtime is why the police and fire get over 80 percent of our budget and they still want more. 
Having listened to Jennifer Hennessy’s presentations, what I would say is, we need to spend based on what we actually take in, rather than budgeting based on her “guesses”.