A Good Time Was Had By All Teetering on the Fiscal Cliff: 77.1 Percent of Taxpayers Will Pay More in 2013

Trust me on this — while our leader Antonio the Magnificent was partying with the ambisexual Charlie Sheen in Cabo San Lucas, the pleasure of his holiday was nothing compared to the good time that was had by all in Washington.

If you have ever spent an all-night session with filibustering and philandering politicians under great duress — with the world teetering on the edge of a fiscal cliff that could take us all down — you know what goes on.

The sex, the booze, the bags of money and favors that exchange hands — it’s a party like nothing the likes of most of us ever get to experience. Thrilling to the point it makes it all worthwhile to have to come back to Washington and be unable to ring in the New Year with the irrelevant rubes back home.

It’s not so easy for a Senator or a Congressman to really party down among the local folks but in the nation’s capital, who’s to see, who’s to say, who’s to judge a politician spending a lot of time with a girl friend or a boy friend.

You know these people weren’t really working. Their enormous staffs do the work. They were kibbitzing and drinking and figuring out all the angles so they the Republicans can still maintain they are fighting tax increases and willing to go to hell and back to gut Social Security and Medicare to stop the deficit from going any higher.

For their part, the President and the Democrats can boast they saved the nation from tumbling into the fiscal abyss by raising the income tax rate on the new rich and even a few of the old rich.

But the truth is very different: More than three of every four taxpayers will pay more in federal taxes in 2013 than in 2012.

The non-partisan Tax Policy Institute reports the main reason is workers’ share of the Social Security — the payroll tax — will jump from 4.5 to 6.5 percent where it was before the recession. And take note the affluent stop paying the payroll tax at $110,000 so it is as regressive a tax as there is.

“More than 80 percent of households with incomes between $50,000 and $200,000 would pay higher taxes. Among the households facing higher taxes, the average increase would be $1,635,” according to Bloomberg News.

The heaviest new burdens in 2013, compared with 2012, would fall on top earners, who would face higher rates on income, capital gains, dividends and estates. The top 1 percent of taxpayers, or those with incomes over $506,210, would pay an average of $73,633 more in taxes.”

For the average person, the Obamacare taxes — five different taxes that include cutting the flexible spending account limit from $5,000 to $2,500 a year — will cost just about everybody more money.

It certainly doesn’t end there. With estimates of the federal deficit — at its legal maximum now — expected to soar by $4 trillion in the decade, a 25 percent leap, and the issue put off for two months, you can bet your bottom dollar that the war of words without meaning and principles without courage on both sides of the aisle will intensify again soon.

Trust me once more: Rational discussion and debate will have no place in the crisis atmosphere they will create as a smokescreen for what is really going on behind the scenes.

Party on, Washington, party on!

My Sunday Column: A Question of Legislative Grease — The Truth About Assemblyman Mike Gatto’s Incredible Boast

There are no angels in politics, at least not for long.

Power corrupts, even a little power, even the illusion of a little power can corrupt. That’s why everyone who gets in the political game becomes tainted to one degree or another or they wouldn’t be a player for very long. It’s only a question of time.

Politics is a dirty business, from the big time in Washington to the medium time in Sacramento and Los Angeles, even in the small time in suburbia. Nothing gets done without the grease that dirties the hands of everyone involved, even the ones who try hard to be honest.

I bring this up because of an eye-catching assertion Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) made in a debate last month with Republican challenger Greg Krikorian in the heavily Democratic district that includes Glendale, Burbank and surrounding communities.

Gatto was able to raise $998,069.53 this year, well over five times as much as his challenger and was so sure of victory he gave some 25% of his campaign money to the Democratic Party and other candidates — and still kept $600,000 in the bank for future political uses.

According to official records at Cal Access, Gatto spent only $173,929.92 in the campaign — just $224.97 more than Krikorian was able to raise in total.

Money clearly did not make the difference. That’s why it is so hard to understand the statement that Gatto uttered during the League of Women Voters debate barely a week before the election:

“I am the only legislator out of all 120 who has never taken a sponsored piece of legislation. So I hear all this talk about special interests and with all due respect it’s a bit of, a little bit of a whopper. I have never taken a bill from a special interest. I have never taken a sponsored bill. All of my bills tend to be the, dare I say, wonkish, dare I say a little bit, a little bit, you know, they’re not the necessarily sexy ones that garner the headlines.”


My Sunday Column: Measure J loss is a victory for the people — a chance to demand a real public transit system

We can’t keep on destroying the public transit system in order to save it — that surely is the lesson we need to learn from the defeat of Measure J on Tuesday.

We all want a real public transit system. We want to park our cars and ride comfortably to where we want to go. But Measure J was phony, a taxpayer rip-off that was brought down by an extraordinary coalition of the rich and poor and so many from virtually every corner of the region. It was historic and offers a blueprint of what people can do in defense of their own interests if they respect the interests of others.

For more than a century, the rich got richer profiting from sprawling development of this giant county. The demographics may have changed, but greed knows no racial or other boundaries, and so they are seeking to profit from vertical — rather than horizontal — development without building the kind of public transit system that is needed.

The King of Greed in L.A. today, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa — in a desperate effort to salvage his own political legacy — drove support for Measure R four years ago knowing full well the $30 billion from a one-half-percent sales tax hike over 30 years was a fraction of the cost of building the subways, light rails, freeways and bridges he sought.

The transportation lobby — with generous aid from contractors, consultants, construction trades and naifs, like cyclists — managed to fool two-thirds of voters.

Needing a lot more money, they lobbied Congress — Republicans and Democrats alike — for billions as if the largest city in the largest state that always votes Democratic has any real leverage. The result was they got far less than needed, so they came up with Measure J to borrow against another 30 years of sales tax revenue — as much as $90 billion — to have a chance to deliver what they had promised.

But there were issues.

Since 2008, bus service was gutted by 1 million hours, persecuting the transit-dependent and making their lives so much harder with fewer routes and longer waits for service when everybody everywhere knows it isn’t a “transit system” without high connectivity and high frequency of service.


2JobBob: A Parting Shot at Shameless Assemblyman Blumenfield Who Doesn’t Want the Job He’s Seeking

Before you mindlessly cast your ballot Tuesday and re-elect Bob Blumenfield in the heavily   Democratic Southwest San Fernando Valley, consider that he’s also running for the City Council to double his pay and double his destructive ways.

With access to unlimited dirty special interest money, 2JobBob — who as Budget Chair is the legislator responsible as much as anyone for California’s endless cycle of phony budgets and massive deficits –plans to resign by June, leaving you without representation for six months and costing you $3 million for a special election.

That is totally public service, not self-service.

Here’s a guy who can’t even tell the simplest truth about why he is supporting Howard Berman in what now appears to be his hopeless challenge of Brad Sherman in what has become the ugliest and costliest general election for Congress between two members of the same party with virtually identical voting records.

Talk about self-destruction, here is absolute proof that professional politicians and the special interests who buy them do not give a damn about you or your interests. It’s all lip service and manipulation.

That’s where 2JobBob couldn’t help but put his two cents in during the campaign’s closing weeks since he faces only a token challenge from Republican Chris Kolski, a political novice with little money and no hope beyond his own optimistic and cheerful nature.

Using lawn signs that double up as ads for Berman, Blumenfield has gone so far in the closing days of the veteran Congressman to send out email blasts touting the tepid support his man got from President Obama (to match Sherman’s tepid support from Bill Clinton) and what he calls, beneath the American flag and the log Election 2012:

Top ten reasons why I am supporting Howard Berman

And so Blumentfield’s missive to thousands of constituents — who don’t have a clue who 2JobBob is despite his two terms of serving his party, labor unions, Indian gaming syndicates, and various medical organizations that rip you off — begins with a deceit:

“I am writing to ask you to do something I believe is extremely important for our community and our Nation:   If you live in the San Fernando Valley’s 30th Congressional District – please vote for Congressman Howard L. Berman.

“I’ve personally known and worked with both Howard Berman and his opponent (Brad Sherman) for many years and the choice couldn’t be more clear.”

Notice how 2JobBob “worked with” Berman and Sherman but no mention that he “worked for” only Berman and found in the Valley’s long-lost Congressman a mentor who launched his disciple’s political career.

He then lists three reasons to choose Berman over Sherman — all of them are praise for Howard from obscure magazines none of you have ever read and probably only heard of one, Foreign Policy Magazine.

From there, the brains of the state budget gets lost in six-lettered reasons and five bullet points before concluding with reason No. 10: “Howard Berman is one of the most ethical and good hearted people I know … ‘

If it’s good enough for 2JobBob, it ought to be good enough for you — isn’t that the way Democracy in America works?

My Sunday Column: Empty Desks, a New Way of Life for Fiscally Responsible Cities

The email from Moody’s credit rating service that popped up on my computer screen boggled my mind: Glendale was among 40 California cities that were downgraded or are facing downgrades, but Los Angeles and San Francisco could get upgrades.

I’m an old newspaperman who knows a lot more about words than money, but that made no sense at all. How could a fiscally conservative city like Glendale be a worse credit risk than free-spending Los Angeles?

So I dropped by Glendale City Manager Scott Ochoa’s office last week in search of answers. What I found were a lot of empty desks everywhere I looked.

“It’s a new way of life for us,” explained Assistant City Manager Yasmin Beers, “after the 122 retirements and the 55 layoffs and the 100-plus vacancies and the 28 positions that we eliminated with redevelopment, and now the 28 with Glendale Water & Power. We’re just going to try to settle in and see what this all means for us.”

Since the economy crashed four years ago this month, Glendale has gotten wage concessions and increased contributions to pensions and healthcare from its employee unions — concessions of up to 13.5% of salaries for police and firefighters.

The exception is utility workers who are in stalled talks on an initial contract since voting to be represented by the IBEW.

That’s a lot different than L.A., a city 20 times the size of Glendale, where union concessions have been far less substantial and fewer than 500 workers have faced layoffs while three times as many have been transferred to the harbor, airport, utility or other departments that don’t rely on the General Fund.

Real budget cuts in tough times versus kicking the budget can down the road so the big bills will come later — that’s the way I see the difference between Glendale and L.A.


Heads Up LA: 2JobBob Blumenfield Is a Cheater — Say No to the Measure J Slush Fund — Riordan’s Real Pension Reform

Here’s a few items you should pay attention to today:

2JobBob Blumenfield: Unethical & Illegal

2JobBob Blumenfield is the subject today of a formal complaint to the city Ethics Commission about using his huge war chest for his Assembly re-election campaign to support his meager war chest for his simultaneous campaign for the LA City Council in the West San Fernando Valley’s CD3.

The complaint came in a letter (Presberg–ethics letter) from one of his eight opponents, Steve Presberg, who wrote in part:

As you know, I am a candidate for the City Council, 3rd District.  You may recall my testimony at your August meeting in which I urged you to audit and investigate the fundraising and expenditures of another candidate in this race, Bob Blumenfield.  I said then that Mr. Blumenfield’s running for two offices at the same time (re-election to the State Assembly and election to the City Council) raised very serious questions as to whether our City’s laws and your Department’s regulations were being flouted.

While your Honorable Board and Department certainly cannot regulate a state campaign, I believe you must act to prevent a complete mockery being made of your own regulations.  If you do not act, then Mr. Blumenfield will have established the blueprint for how to run for City office while ignoring our regulations: simply set up a committee as a candidate for state office and collect much larger contributions, and make expenditures, that would be impermissible in a City election.

As an example, Mr. Blumenfield’s filing with your office indicates that he has spent only $1,302 in his City Council race.  However, in his State Assembly filing, running against an opponent who has spent almost nothing, he has spent over $450,000 – and please note: these expenditures are being made in virtually the same precincts that are contained in both districts.  An obvious question is whether his state committee is pre-paying consultants and vendors for services to benefit his City Council race.

In his State filing as well, note that he has received numerous contributions in amounts that far exceed the City contribution limits.  Note also his numerous “gifts” to a long list of other campaign committees and candidates, in the amounts of $3,900 each, something that our City rules forbid.

Don’t Trust MTA with $90 Billion More


“Would it be a good idea to see how Metro handles the first $40 billion of sales tax revenue before we give them an additional $90 billion?”

You bet it is.

This is reason enough to vote NO on Measure J, the November ballot measure that proposes to extend the life of the “one-half cent traffic relief sales tax” for an additional thirty years to 2069.

If passed by two-thirds of the voters, this extension would provide the politically controlled Metropolitan Transit Authority (“Metro”) with an additional $90 billion, resulting in a 60 year total of $130 billion.

While we have questioned Metro’s management capability and organizational resources to control so many complex, capital intensive highway and mass transit construction projects that will burden our grandchildren with tens and tens of billions in debt and interest payments, we have not focused on …


Riordan to Put Real Pension Reform on Ballot


Long sounding the alarm for city employee pension reform, former LA Mayor Richard Riordan is no longer waiting for the City Council and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to come up with the big fix.

On Friday morning, Riordan will file papers with the City Clerk so he can start a signature-gathering campaign and ultimately place a pension reform initiative on the May 2013 ballot. The former mayor says that if voters approve the measure, the city will save “hundreds of millions of dollars” every year by 2017 and an upwards of a billion dollars by 2020.

In an exclusive interview with L.A. Weekly, Riordan explains that his dramatic move, which will pit his campaign against powerful city employee unions and City Hall politicians, is to “prevent the city of Los Angeles from going bankrupt, and preventing the closing of our parks and severe damages to services. In short, it’s to stop us from becoming a third-world city.”

Riordan calls his plan the “Fair Share Pension Reform Act of 2013.” Friend and billionaire Eli Broad and attorney David Fleming are helping with the effort.

Riordan’s plan will have current city employees contribute a “small and fair amount” to their pension benefits and will enroll new workers in a 401k system with a maximum 10 percent contribution from the city. It also promises to end employee “double-dipping.”


2JobBob Will Stick the Poor, Sick and Kids with $3 Million Special Election Bill if He Wins Assembly and Council Races

For 2JobBob Blumenfield, two jobs won’t be enough.

Surely even someone as politically powerful as the two-term Chairman of the California Budget Committee — where his “budgets usually turn into red ink the moment they’re signed,” according to LA Times columnist George Skelton — would face a big challenge raising the $3 million it will cost for a special election to succeed him in the Legislature.

See Bob’s ambition so exceeds his capacity that he is simultaneously running for a third term in the Assembly and a first term on the LA City Council where he would double his salary and dramatically increase his perks if elected.

He has stated that if he wins both elections, it is his intention to avoid missing a single day’s pay by serving in Legislature through June when he intends to resign and be sworn in the next day as the Councilman for the Southwest San Fernando Valley in the CD3 seat now held by the leading contender for City Controller (heaven help us) Dennis Zine.

At that point the nearly half million people 2JobBob has so ineptly served in his Assembly District will be without representation for many months what with the time it takes to schedule a special election, allow adequate time for fund-raising and campaigning, hold a primary and runoff election for the top two finishers.

Talyssa Gonzales in the County Registrar-Recorder is getting calls about just how costly this special election process is and here’s what she says:

“The cost of a special election for the Assembly here is estimated to be between $1.3 and $1.5 million, that’s just for the primary. “If none of the candidates receives a majority in the primary, then there will be a runoff  between the top two finishers and that is expected to cost about the same amount, between $1.3- million and $1.5-million.”

That’s a lot of money just to flatter 2JobBob’s ego needs and to get yet another failed legislator from Sacramento on the City Council. We’ve already got five legislative retreads — Herb Wesson, Paul Krekorian, Paul Koretz, Tony Cardenas (running to Congress) and Richard Alarcon (running to avoid prison) — plus a mayor named Antonio Villaraigosa with four more legislators hoping to hit the jackpot in city elections in March.

Think about it for a minute: These are all people who failed so miserably at their jobs that they virtually bankrupted the state, so over-regulated everything that businesses have fled and left California with among the highest unemployment and poverty rates in the nation and lowest funding for public education while allowing the infrastructure to age beyond repair and creating a $500 billion unfunded liability for public employee pensions that will perpetuate their failure for decades.

And then there’s 2JobBob who wrote four phony budgets and approved closing state parks because he never bothered to look at the bank accounts and see there was $52 million just sitting there to keep them all running for a good while.

We can be sure 2JobBob has done right well financially even without ever having worked in private sector as an adult although he thinks non-profits and government-created agencies are in the private sector which may actually explain a lot.

It’s safe to assume that 2JobBob won’t write a check to cover the $3 million and it’s unlikely he could raise that kind of money for the special election from the Indian gaming interests, unions, insurers and other special interests who fund his campaigns.

So if you run into 2JobBob before the November election for the Assembly or the March election for the Council, be sure to ask him who he wants to pay his bill: Schoolkids, the poor, the sick, the homeless or you and me?

Come on, 2JobBob, do the right thing, make a decision. Which job, Bob? 

My Sunday Column: Eyeing the Ballot Propositions — Follow the Money and Let the Buyer Beware

With absolute certainty, I am prepared a month before the election to predict the outcome in California: President Obama will carry the nation’s largest state and Democrats will maintain dominance in both houses of the state Legislature.

Of course everybody but the most ardent and optimistic partisan knows that since our general elections are more confirmations of the status quo than choices about which direction to take for our future.

Sure, an unusually popular Republican could still win a state office now and again, even the governorship; but it’s going to take a political earthquake to shake things up.

Your vote still matters, though, and so do your values when it comes to the 11 ballot propositions that could raise taxes, bar unions from using payroll-deducted funds for politics, ban the death penalty, limit the three-strikes law to serious third offenses and so much more — or less, depending on your point of view.

There’s even a measure that would make require labeling of genetically engineered foods — well at least some of them — so consumers will know they are not what nature created all by herself.

It is all very confusing, especially when you are bombarded with totally misleading ads and mailers that have little or nothing to do with what is on the ballot.

Lesson No. 1 in politics is “follow the money” and www.maplight.org makes that a lot easier to do. You can see who benefits and who gets hurt and how much they care. Top contributors to each of the 11 measures as of Sept. 30 are online at http://votersedge.org/california/ballot-measures/2012/november.


My Sunday Column: Fun and Games at the MTA — Why Is It So Hard Just To Do What’s Right for the People?

In the climactic scene of director Ivan Reitman‘s 1993 political satire “Dave,” President Mitchell (Kevin Kline) tells a joint session of Congress he lost his way, forgot his job was to make people’s “lives a little better…care more about you than I do about me…care more about what’s right than I do about what’s popular…”

The occasion for my viewing “Dave” recently was Warner Bros. executive Jeff Brown’s quarterly movie event for staff and guests on the Burbank lot where he brings together filmmakers to talk about what they created in advance of screening their movie — directors, producers, editors, writers and actors.

It was fascinating to hear how a movie got born, but it was Reitman’s comments about how the political culture he made fun of 20 years ago seems like child’s play to what we see today.

I was getting “Dave” flashbacks Thursday morning as I watched the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority‘s board members squirm over whether to give the bus-train advertising contract to CBS or Titan — firms that are spending fortunes on dozens of lobbyists to get a $22-million to $23-million-a-year contract.

The meeting started nearly an hour late with only seven of the 13 members present and went downhill from there, to the point they couldn’t even muster a quorum for a while to approve a long list of non-controversial measures because of conflicts of interest.

Then chairman Mike Antonovich announced that in discussions with the California Department of Transportation, several of the “alternative concepts” for extending the Long Beach (710) Freeway to Pasadena along Avenue 64 and through the San Rafael neighborhood were “off the table” from consideration as staff had recommended because of “low-performance characteristics.”


A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Making of the AEG Movie: “Los Angeles — Open for Business or Up for Sale?”

Councilwoman Jan Perry’s committee to sell the public on the Farmers Field/Convention Center deal met for the last time Monday to provide the stage for a dress rehearsal before the climax to the show that would come on Friday in a perfectly orchestrated unanimous finale.

The celebration of this two-year long exhibit of the art of salesmanship did turn out to be a work of genius — a three-hour performance orchestrated down to the smallest detail, tightly scripted, every word programmed for the cameras to create a seamless narrative that had nothing to do with reality.

It was brilliant, pure propaganda — the great Nazi documentary filmmaker Leni Reifenstahl would have admired it. It turned the truth inside out: “LA is for sale … and so are we” was inverted to become “LA is open for business … come see us.”

This fragment from Perry’s hearing is a window into what goes on behind the curtain in the back room where unknown producers, directors and writers put together the scripts for each and every City Council meeting. The entire scene shown in this video was left on the cutting room floor in Friday’s final script and nothing at all was said by city planners about the “signficant” unmitigated environmental impacts of the project in just about every area.

This is not government in action what you see on Channel 35 or the online video: It’s television — show business, a staged performance to create a video record that will always stand for the story line designed for public consumption. That’s why they nearly always vote unanimously and why there is so rarely a word of truth spoken — except sometimes by the gadflies and activists.

That was the case Monday when Ed Reyes, chosen for his discipline as a character actor who is convincingly obtuse to hide his deliberate efforts to obscure all truth.

Among the troublemakers — there were not many other than the unstoppable Joyce Dillard, LA Can and the Fair Play Coalition — who objected to this deal during public comment, there was one who reported serious problems remain despite the 10,000 page Environmental Impact Report and the 100 pages of mitigation measures.

There are eight different problems that were identified and not fixed — an issue that if left in the record might wake people up some day that things didn’t turn out the way Tim Leiweke promised they would — things the mayor, City Attorney and City Council had a responsibility as elected officials to have known about, informed the public about and fixed if they were doing their jobs honorably.

Reyes started with all his bit player’s usual ignorant innocence by saying, “Just for the record I just want to make sure there’s clarity” about the eight areas of “environmental concerns” — not problems — that were mentioned.

“I want to make sure we’re mitigating those concerns or how we’re mitigating them,” he told city planners. “If you will just address them briefly.”

Briefly is the keyword — so they don’t give away questionable details, just offer vague assurances for the “record” that everything was considered and dealt with.

That was what this whole show has been about all these months, creating a video record that tells the story about the strong leadership, vision and hard work when the reality has more to do with cowardice, moral blindness and sloth.

It fell to city planner Karen Hu to put these concerns about the public’s health and safety to rest.

“There are eight areas to which you as a Council in approving this document will also have  to approve a statement of overriding considerations because we could not reduce those impacts to a level that was less than significant,” she told them in the matter-of-fact way that honest bureaucrats talk.

“Those eight  areas are in transportation, air quality, aesthetics and visual resources, cultural and historic resources, views, artificial light and glare, noise, utilities, solid waste.”

Concerned that those eight covered just about everything, Reyes pursued his goal to clean up the “record,” asking: “So given those areas, we are addressing them with mitigating conditions?”

“Yes, there are conditions,” she answered.

“That’s what I need to hear for the record,” Reyes pleaded.

“Cause we’ve raised the concerns but you haven’t spoken to how we are mitigating those concerns and that to me is crucial for the record given the public comment that’s been made. I don’t want to leave that open because I believe it leaves us vulnerable in the future.

“So to be very clear to support this process and this program, if you can just address it briefly. That’s what I think is important to this process.”

A confession to the crime of faking the public record. Again, an order — Reyes’ gesturing forcefully with his hand pointed, beating a steady drumbeat to planners –to keep it brief and without detail, just make this go away, neutralize the record.

This mission will not be left to a sincere person trying to do the best job for the city that she can all things considered.

No way, City Planning Director Michael LoGrande — a man who got this job without credentials as an urban planner and without the scruples of Karen Hu — will close the book for the record on concerns about unmitigated impacts on just about every aspect affecting the quality of life for millions of people.

He calls the EIR “a legally very defensible document” and declares that major projects often have “certain items that can’t be mitigated under CEQA to a level of insignificance” –shifting the language from “problems and concerns” to “items” and “significant” to insignificance.”

“That’s why we have these statements of overriding considerations saying the benefits of this project outweigh some of the issues,” LoGrande adds, swearing “we’ve done our best to mitigate those impacts to tolerable levels  … using the best sophisticated technology methods available  to us … acceptable levels .. confident … conservative document … forward thinking ..  state-of-the-art mitigation.”

“All CEQA requtres legally is that we are transparent, disclose that information to the public and to the decision makers … ”

It was so brief, so to the point, so loaded with vague, hollow words intended to put minds at ease and close the record to any questions later.

After all, none of these people want to find they are “vulnerable in the future” when this deal turns out to have all kinds of problems like the environmental “items” aren’t tolerable and acceptable, the Convention Center is still a white elephant, the subsidized hotels with empty rooms can’t afford the “living wage,” a part-time “living wage” job doesn’t pay people’s bills and the benefits to the city do not in fact outweigh the costs.

COMING SOON: “Open for Business: Selling Out LA’s Future.” Act One.