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So you thought we dumped the king in ’76?

1 Jul

Already July!  Fourth of July travelers are on the highway – I wonder if they noticed, the gas tax went up today. 

Something nobody seemed to get about SB 1 – the gas tax increase instituted by the state legislature in January 2018 – is that it allows the legislature to raise it at will, no input from the voters. 

Honey, that’s called TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENTATION. 

It could get worse – in May, Assembly Constitutional Amendment 1 was ordered for a third reading, not yet scheduled.  ACA1 lowers the voter threshold for [the following italicized portions have been added to the original text] “Bonded indebtedness incurred by a city, county, or city and county city and county, or special district for the construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, or replacement of public infrastructure or infrastructure, affordable housing, or permanent supportive housing for persons at risk of chronic homelessness, including persons with mental illness, or the acquisition or lease of real property for public infrastructure or infrastructure, affordable housing, or permanent supportive housing for persons at risk of chronic homelessness, including persons with mental illness, ”  from 2/3’s to 55 percent voter approval.  

Why? Because it was hard to get 2/3’s approval from the taxpayers. So they are changing the rule. What kind of crap is that? Should the legislature be able to just change the constitution without a vote of the people?

Furthermore, do you really think it’s okay for 55 people to tell the other 45 that they must pay a tax for programs they don’t want to support? I think that’s mob rule, and it’s divisive. A community should agree on stuff, not be subject to the loudest bullies in the group. 

Here’s the text of ACA 1

http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=201920200ACA1

The bar at the top of the page includes the history of the bill, current status (waiting for a third reading), and who voted how. So far it’s been through the Assembly Local Government Committee, and the Assembly Appropriations Committee. I don’t know where it goes next, but I’m watching this page. 

So, this week, when you are trying to enjoy various events, try to remember why we celebrate this holiday. Do some homework, learn something about the process by which they steal your money and ruin your community. 

I’ll tell you what my family did to start the week off right – we watched “Vice”, the 2018 movie about Dick Cheney. Sure, it’s silly and fantastic in places, but it tells, factually, how our government works, and why we have to be on top of our politicians. 

And then we watched the Nixon movie, “Dick,”  which is the best telling of the Watergate story I have ever seen.  I was 12 years old when the Watergate story broke in the newspapers, I remember that was the first time my parents didn’t know all the answers. People were stunned, because they knew nothing about how much power the president really had.  They thought we dumped the king back in ’76, but they were wrong.

Happy Independence Day Everybody!

 

 

ER editor stumps for a tax increase, time to write those letters!

17 Jun

 

The ER recently published a very insulting editorial.

Editorial: Discussion of a tax could loom for Chico

First of all, Editor acts as though he’s bringing up the subject of a tax – where has he been? The city has been kicking this idea around for years now, and has spent 10’s of thousands of taxpayers dollars on consultants. 

That’s the real story – spending taxpayer money on tax measures is illegal. Wake up Mr. “News”(?) editor. 

Not one word about the pensions.  Not one word about the garbage tax money that was just “stolen” (Karl Ory’s word) to pay salaries, benefits and pensions for non-street maintenance personnel. Just a not-very-clever ploy for bringing the “t-word” out of the closet. As if it’s some novel new idea, being suggested by a gosh-darn good old citizen!

Well, here’s what needs to be brought out of the closet – the Stanford Institute pension tracker.

https://www.pensiontracker.org/agencySummary.php?agency_name=City+of+Chico&id=1390&search=Search

This link covers the city of Chico, but you can find other local entities, like Chico Area Recreation District (CARD). This site blew my mind – what we have here, essentially, is two sets of books, one that reflects reality, and one that reflects what Staff has been telling us. Staff has  been reporting the “actuarial” figure as our total deficit – $127,864,195 as of 2017. The actuarial figure assumes a high return on the stock market, and that hasn’t been happening.  Our market deficit – what we owe – is over $400,000,000.  That’s what we owe employees, minus our “assets”. Study the chart yourself – it’s outrageous. 

I really appreciated Steve Wolfe’s kind words, so I wrote another letter to the paper. I included a link to this blog, so people can see the pension tracker for themselves. I hope to hear more people expressing some outrage over this issue, I think we can beat this thing before it gets out of the barn.

I keep hearing a popular chant from high school football running through my head – Push ’em back, push ’em back, waaaaaay back!

When we discuss the “t-word”, there are two other words that need to be included – “pension deficit” – the  difference between what public employees want to get in retirement, and what they expect to pay. Chico employees expect to get 70 – 90 percent of salaries over $100,000 a year while paying less than $10,000/year into the system themselves. 

CalPERS promised to fund the deficit with stock market investments but has failed miserably, and now expects the taxpayers to pay billions.  While Chico staffers cry poormouth and promise to use a new tax for infrastructure, they siphon millions a year  out of “dedicated” funds – like the street maintenance and sewer funds – toward their pension deficit.  City leaders told us they’d fix our streets with the garbage tax but recently directed this year’s takings to the general fund to pay unrelated salaries, benefits, and pensions.  

According to the Stanford Institute, the city of Chico carries over $418,000,000 total pension debt. That’s $11,329 per household, the majority of whom survive on less than  $43,000/year.  Staff says they don’t have enough money to maintain our streets and other infrastructure, while they funnel millions into the “Pension Stabilization Trust” every year. 

Editor warns, “If that one tax measure disappoints, the electorate will likely slam the door on future ones for a long time.” Why be stupid enough to approve a tax measure when we’ve already been disappointed? Would private sector employees get away with this? No. Time for staff to pay their own pensions.    

Find sources at chicotaxpayers.com

Don’t be fooled by city’s campaign to raise taxes

2 Oct

When I got home from that Finance Committee meeting last week I took a look at the city’s most recent budget, approved unanimously last June by a city council that had already drank the $staff koolaid. Then I wrote a letter about what I learned to the Enterprise Record.

At the September Finance Committee meeting assistant city manager Chris Constantin reported that Chico’s older neighborhood streets have been neglected in favor of  streets in newer subdivisions. “Money that comes available is steered toward roads that are in better shape, rather than replacing ones that have effectively failed.”

Staff reported $6 million in RDA funding was used to put new streets in the subdivision on Hwy 32 east.  So, the city is borrowing money at a rate of $3 for every $1 spent to build new roads for developers, while we in older neighborhoods will drive over potholes that void the warranty on our tires.

Council and staff want a revenue measure for “street maintenance”, but whose streets are we talking about?

The city already taxes our utility services, for “use of infrastructure”. $6,674,000 in Utility Users Tax added to our PG&E, landline and water bills. $845,000 in franchise fees added to our cable tv bills, $675,000 to PG&E, and another $800,000 to garbage. Another $7,490,000 added to our vehicle license fees. $7,597,000 in property taxes.  Over $2,000,000 a year in gas tax. Shouldn’t  these revenues be directly applied to the streets?

Where does the money go? Well, for example, roughly $2,000,000 of approximately $2,700,000 in annual state gas tax receipts is transferred into the salary and benefits pit known as the General Fund. Staff has also created a special fund to pay down their $180,000,000 pension deficit, council approving a $1,000,000 fund transfer earlier this year. That amount increases annually.

No to revenue increases, yes to more accountability Downtown.

 

 

 

Will the gas tax repeal make the ballot? Stay tuned!

2 Mar

Carl Demaio and Reform California are still working to put the gas tax repeal on the November ballot.  I believe (?) the deadline was Wednesday (Feb. 28) but have not heard whether they were able to gather the required number of signatures. 

Here’s what Ballotpedia has posted:

https://ballotpedia.org/California_Voter_Approval_for_Gas_and_Vehicle_Taxes_Initiative_(2018)

“The California Voter Approval for Gas and Vehicle Taxes Initiative (#17-0033) may appear on the ballot in California as an initiated constitutional amendment on November 6, 2018.”

Scroll down and have a laugh – Jerry Brown says, “I can’t believe the proponents of this ballot measure really want Californians to keep driving on lousy roads and dangerous bridges. Taking billions of dollars a year from road maintenance and repair borders on insanity.”

Listen, Moonbeam, you should think before you speak. You can’t believe it because it’s not true – proponents of this ballot measure have repeatedly said the money for road repairs is available but being siphoned off for other purposes. You’ve also just acknowledged lousy roads and dangerous bridges, for which you, as Captain of our ship, are responsible, and therefore, liable!  And yes, taking billions of dollars a year from road maintenance and repair to fund your pension borders not only on insanity, it borders on corruption, Sweet Cheeks. Should we have a court martial? Maybe set up a plank? Ooooo – keeeeel haul!

I think Brown is privately shocked about the voter’s response, lots of people have signed. I’m guessing the petitions were turned in, but it will take a while to verify the signatures. 

We’ve been talking about hidden taxes, such as the “franchise fees” the city and county are allowed to collect from utility companies such as Comcast and PG&E. This gas tax was shoved on us by the governor and the legislature, without any input from the voters.  For years now they – including Jerry Brown – have siphoned their outrageous salaries, pensions and benefits out of the road funding. I’ve sat in meetings many times and watched the local agencies pilfer “restricted”  fund to pay down their pension deficit, while roads and other infrastructure in Chico have turned to absolute crap. 

The foxes are in charge of the henhouse People.  For example, Scott Dowell used to be the finance manager for Chico Area Recreation District before he got hired by the city of Chico. While CARD allowed two public swimming pools to deteriorate to sub-code and sub-ADA conditions, Dowell made a extra $400,000 “side fund pay-off” on CARD’s $1.7 million pension deficit, saying it would save the agency money on interest payments to CalPERS. Meanwhile, CARD management has only started paying toward their pensions within the last two years, “classic members” like CARD manager Ann Willmann are only paying 2 PERCENT.  That all happened on Dowell’s watch.  Now he’s running City of Chico finances.  Next Thursday I’d bet my last $5 he’s going to lay down a pretty wild argument for a sales tax increase. 

Cause taxes are their heroin. As long as they can get a fix, put off rehab for just one more fix, one more fix, one more fix…

Just look at Chico Unified School District – they’ve had a bond measure on almost every ballot since 1998, and the last three have passed. But they are getting ready to put another bond on the ballot, because they just got new demands from both CalPERS and CalSTRS for more money, more money, more money…

You probably think you hang around with a nice crowd, but if you send your kid to a Chico school – any Chico school – you are leaving them all day with a bunch of freaking junkies. Wake UP!

A friend of mine recently asked me if I knew city council member Randy Stone is running for Butte County Assessor. I was kinda bitchy – I told her I didn’t give a shit who was running for election, because elected offices don’t matter anymore – it’s $TAFF. And we don’t get to vote for them. 

But, voting is important, especially the initiatives. So I’ll gas up the old election buggy and try to get it out on the road, try to start posting some news about the local candidates, besides just…YECHHHHHHH!

cause we can’t and we won’t and we don’t stop…

 

 

City consultant: “more people, more payroll, more allocations” – this is how city of Chico management siphons money from the road fund into their own wallets

1 Mar

Thursday March 8,  City of Chico finance mangler Scott Dowell will give a dog-and-pony presentation about how the city spends money. That ought to be a gas, but instead, I attended yesterday’s (2/28/18) Finance Committee meeting to hear a consultant explain the process of “cost allocation”.

Dowell is disingenuous – who does he really expect to show up on a Thursday at 10 am? Oh yeah, I’ll just ask my boss if I can come in early and take two hours off at lunch, everybody does that! 

You know, I might have had bosses who would go for that, but only once. And you wouldn’t be allowed to discuss it at the work place, that’s a pretty standard rule of getting along with fellow employees  – leave your politics in the parking lot. So, in this way, Dowell is very pointedly leaving out the working class who would have to support the sales tax increase he is going to be selling at his “workshop”.

But, when you have limited time, you use it wisely. Who wants to hear a spin from the Fox in Charge of the Henhouse, when you can listen to a visiting watch dog? That’s how I see consultant Chad Wolford, eversince 2015 when he told council they were spending too much money on “overhead” – administrative salaries and benefits.

https://chicotaxpayers.com/2017/12/21/no-kidding-our-city-is-headed-for-deep-doo-doo-2/

As the consultant describes it, cost allocation means, “central administration cost (also referred to as “overhead”) spread down to departments as operating costs.”  Just repeat that a few times, and remind yourself, “operating” means “actual work,” such as fixing the streets, or maintaining the sewer plant. 

Cost allocation is the process by which these ridiculous management salaries are cherry picked from all the departments. Makes it look legal and fair, but it’s really the same old system of moving peas under walnuts shells. Money is moved between restricted and non-restricted funds to pay for stuff that money was not originally earmarked for. 

What’s the use of restricting funds (to their original purpose, such as street maintenance) if you can just transfer them wherever you want to pay for whatever you want? This is the process by which administrators like Orme, Constantin and Dowell take grant money that was originally intended to fix streets and pad it into their wallets. 

The consultant is a nice man, he admitted to me, “this is a very complicated process.”  I replied, “No kidding!” That’s why  I had tagged him into the lobby of the building when he finished his presentation, I had to ask some additional questions. 

Well here’s something that he made pretty clear – the “changes”  (increases) in the allocations are based on staff and salary increases. “More people, more payroll, more allocations,” Wolford said. “Salaries and benefits have gone up, operating budgets are up…” 

So, I don’t think I’ll be bothered with Dowell’s dog and pony show Saturday – ‘scuse me, that’s Thursday March 8 – I already heard how the city of Chico spends it’s money. 

City franchise fees amount to a shake down of the ratepayers – now they want a sales tax increase? Tell them NO! with a Utility Tax Rebate Form

17 Feb

I got an answer from City of Chico Administrative Services Officer Scott Dowell regarding PG&E franchise fees – the amounts I had seen in the old news story from Ch 7 were not supposed to be added up:

Ms. Sumner:

The amounts reflected in the article totaling $609,017.71 for the combined PG&E Electric and Gas Franchise fees were received in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

They are included in the total amount of $649,760.70 reflected on the budget summary for the General Fund 001.  The difference between the two amounts is other PG&E adjustments paid to the City from prior year adjustments.  The $649,760.70 may be found on page 17 under object code 40404 at the following link from the City’s website:

http://www.chico.ca.us/finance/documents/2014-15CityAnnualFINALBudget_000.pdf

So, the totals I saw added up to $609,017.71, but the city also received an additional $40,000 or so from the previous year. I want to blaspheme right now – this whole thing is so confusing, how are we supposed to keep track?

By fiscal year ending June 2017, the total had gone up to $690,768.

This fee is based on a percentage of PG&E’s total take for the year, and then pasted right back on to our bills like a big booger.

It’s not like they hide it, not exactly.  Look at your bill, page 2, which lists “Your Electric Charges Breakdown” (I don’t find one for gas charges). Besides “Generation, Transmission and Distribution”, you are charged for “Electric Public Purpose Programs” (which I believe fund low-income programs for other customers), “Nuclear Decommissioning” (I believe this pays costs of taking down disabled nuclear plants), “Competition Transition Charges” (???) and then there’s “Taxes and Other”.

“Taxes and Other”. I did the math – that does not include the Utility Users Tax, which is a percentage of your total usage charges, including “Taxes and Other”. 

There are other charges listed – more hidden taxes – like the charge for bonds issued by the Department of Water Resources.  But what I’m looking at right now is how much money the city of Chico steals from ratepayers through these hidden fees. These fees are tacked onto our bills. No matter how we try to conserve we are hit, our bills go higher and higher. The city does nothing to curtail PG&E’s insatiable rate increases, because they stand to make a direct profit.

But they still need a sales tax? Next week they will raise developer fees, which is why Butte County/Chico have become less affordable to live in, according to the most recent housing affordability figures:

https://www.car.org/aboutus/mediacenter/newsreleases/2017releases/2qtr2017affordability

Butte County is included in the list of 29 counties where housing has become less affordable over the past year, despite developers who’ve used the “housing crisis” to wedge in their sub-standard subdivisions. High density developers have been after the city of Chico to let them build without paying fees, but their housing just keeps getting more expensive anyway. 

Here’s what you can get in Doe Mill – with no yard – for $422,000.

https://www.realtor.com/realestateandhomes-search/Doe-Mill_Chico_CA

Builders have been making the argument that we need more housing to make houses cheaper – really? How come they just keep getting more expensive? According to this index, less than half the residents of Butte County can afford a “median priced” home.

https://www.car.org/marketdata/data/haitraditional/

They list the median price at about $299,000. Have you seen a house selling for $299,000 in Chico? Cause when we were looking for a house for our kid, anything less than $300,000 was in a neighborhood where you would want to park your car in your living room at night and push your dresser up in front of your bedroom door.  Even in my old neighborhood, a 3 bedroom house down the street just went for over $360,000. Do you really think the city of Chico, starving for money, is going to do anything that will cut their property tax revenues? All that crap about building more to bring down the cost of house is just LIES.

The city of Chico is desperate for revenues. You know how junkies are – they will lie through their teeth to get money, lie, cheat and steal.  A city can pass “measures” and “initiatives” at council meetings without so much as a peep from the public, especially a lazy, stupid public. The city of Chico takes advantage of our stupidity and laziness to siphon funding through the utility companies, the developers, business owners – anybody who wants to do anything in the city of Chico must participate in the shake-down. And they go along because all they have to do is pass the buck on to YOU.

So now we have a select group of business owners and publicly employed hawkers telling us we need to pay a sales tax increase? Answer them with more than a million in franchise fees we pay through our Comcast and PG&E bills. 

And then gather up your utility bills and add up the amounts listed as “Chico Utility Users Tax”. They are listed on PG&E, Cal Water bills, and if you still have a landline, your phone bill. But you have to look through these bills, sometimes the UUT charges are listed separately and have to be added up. PG&E lists them in with each electric and gas charge separately, look carefully. 

Most people in Chico qualify for the Utility Tax Rebate – a family of four making $47,000/year or less qualifies. Here’s last year’s application form:

http://www.chico.ca.us/documents/UUTREFNDApplicationPageOneTwo_CombinedFILLABLE4-13-16.pdf

Applications for 2017/18 will be available in late April, or I’ll e-mail the Finance Office and remind them. You have May and June to turn it in, and I usually drop mine off to avoid paying postage on a stack of utility bills – yes, they want alllll your bills! But they will send them back – I’ve been doing this for over 5 years now, and I’ve always got my bills back with my check. 

When we didn’t know, we might have considered ourselves victims, but now that we know, if we don’t act, we’re idiots. Sending in your UUT rebate application is a way of telling them you’re sick of their constant wheedling and poking, lying, cheating and stealing.

 

 

 

Gas tax petition gaining momentum – time to defund the special interest programs that are ruining our state

24 Jan

I’m glad I went to that meeting yesterday, because it relates to some other stuff I’ve been reading in the news. 

First of all, Dude sent me this article over a week ago:

http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-jackson-california-poverty-20180114-story.html

“Guess which state has the highest poverty rate in the country? Not Mississippi, New Mexico, or West Virginia, but California, where nearly one out of five residents is poor. That’s according to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which factors in the cost of housing, food, utilities and clothing, and which includes noncash government assistance as a form of income.”

I’ll buy that, because that’s what I’m seeing all around me – more than 1 in 5 of my friends are having money problems, and few of them have been living fast or fancy – they’re having a hard time paying their new PG&E, Cal Water, and Waste Management rates, which are going up hell-bent-for-leather compared to their wages. My kids are working jobs at reduced hours because their employers cannot afford to pay the still-required health care premiums for employees working 28 hours or more a week. 

While you might want to blame welfare recipients, read on:

“Self-interest in the social-services community may be at fault. As economist William A. Niskanen explained back in 1971, public agencies seek to maximize their budgets, through which they acquire increased power, status, comfort and security. To keep growing its budget, and hence its power, a welfare bureaucracy has an incentive to expand its “customer” base. With 883,000 full-time-equivalent state and local employees in 2014, California has an enormous bureaucracy. Many work in social services, and many would lose their jobs if the typical welfare client were to move off the welfare rolls.”

And then there’s the pressure on the middle income families who have to drive to work – The Moonbeam’s answer to poverty was higher taxes on cars and gas.  There’s no limit when you are spending other people’s money. Luckily a group has come up with a gas tax repeal petition:

http://act.reformcalifornia.org/petitions/cartax/html/gen/

From the San Diego Union Tribune:

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/energy-green/sd-fi-gastax-repeal-20171127-story.html

“We need to stop the car and gas tax hikes because, number one, it’s hurting working families,” said Carl DeMaio, a former member of the San Diego City Council and now a talk radio host who has helped spearhead the repeal. “Secondly, the money is being diverted time and time again from road repairs and road expansion to any special interest project the politicians have.”

 

Yes, any special interest project – like a busline to Sacramento that  takes an hour longer than driving your car, that will still cost $24 round trip (and screw you if you miss that 4:55 bus), and will still have to be 60 percent subsidized by the taxpayers, even if they get the ridership required by the grant program. 

Read this again, “With 883,000 full-time-equivalent state and local employees in 2014, California has an enormous bureaucracy.”

Including the staffers at BCAG, SRTA, SJJPD, and a bunch of other special districts around the state. BCAG has a $1.5 million dollar payroll to meet, for 12 staffers – whipping out my handy calculator, I see that’s $125,000 per staffer. 

Public compensation drives up the cost of everything, from housing to food to gas to daycare to medical care and so on.  The private sector family living on $40,000 or less has to compete with these people for homes, groceries, everything – in a town with so many publicly employed residents as Chico, the seller or merchant is able to charge top dollar for everything.

This is how these stupid special projects affect our quality of life. Tell your county supervisor you don’t want to participate in this bus line to nowhere, it’s not too late, the grant applications haven’t been accepted yet.