The Reluctant Candidate

This article was first published in print and online on November 5th in Bruce’s “We the Government” column. For more information about his biweekly syndicated column, be sure to read the introductory post here.

Ever notice that we treat our elected officials very kindly? We call them the “Honorable.” We stand when they walk in. We ask them to sit at the head table. We may curry favor with them for future gain. However, while we should absolutely treat people kindly and with respect, we may be planting the seeds of our own problems with this underlying deference!

Electeds begin to think “I’m all that, plus a bag of chips!” You see, they begin to believe their own public relations messaging. Within the State Capitol we call it “memberitis”. Per Matthew 23:6, “They love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues.” They think they are “hot stuff”, rather than simply as our elected employees – which is how we should treat them. Respectfully, honestly, but as our employees who we hold accountable as their employers.

The result of this favorable treatment is we have people running for office for all the wrong reasons! Not everyone, but many seek fame, ego, power, or privilege, rather than run as a public servant. Asking candidates why they are seeking office, some have candidly admitted to me, “I’m not sure why.” They know that it may be unlikely for them to win – but simply running brings exposure and notoriety. It’s almost a game.

Then, if elected, do they know why they are there? It’s unlikely they have any grounding in constitutional responsibilities or even basic managerial skills. They pursue whatever their imaginations conceive and frequently have NO sense of priorities. This explains recent laws from the State Capitol that makes it illegal to remove condoms during intercourse without mutual consent, or restaurants to offer small packets of condiments (e.g. mustard).

I recently relayed an observation to a reporter from my years as a local elected, “Being elected does not mean that you are necessarily intelligent!” He laughed and laughed in agreement … almost as the child who declared that, “The emperor has no clothes!”

Of course, everything is on a continuum. I have met bright and dim electeds. But, we pull our candidates from the general population. So, if the average person is just bumbling through life trying to figure it out, then our candidates and ultimately electeds are doing the same thing!

Hence, my “Thesis of the Reluctant Candidate”: the most reluctant candidate out of a group of candidates may be the best candidate. Take ten people who are asked, “Who wants to be Mayor?” Nine shout, “Oh, me, please me, I really want to be Mayor!!” They jump up and down trying to be picked – and this is not an unrealistic scenario. Now, I wonder why are they so eager to be in power? And, if so eager to gain power, won’t they be eager to stay in power – to do whatever it takes to play the political games to win again and again? (I have been in the backrooms where electeds contrive to manipulate offices so as to stay in power.)

By contrast, the reluctant candidate may say, “Well, damn, I really have other things to do, but I guess I could serve for a term as a public service.” I’d argue that may be the better candidate. They are not in it so much for ego or personal gain.

The lessons for citizens as owners of our government are as follows. We need to inspire the highest quality of candidates. We should look for the necessary qualifications in deciding for whom to vote. And, finally, we must treat our electeds with respect, but treat them as our employees!

Unintended Consequences

This article was first published in print and online on September 17th in Bruce’s “We the Government” column. For more information about his biweekly syndicated column, be sure to read the introductory post here.

Driving by a local Chick-fil-A recently, I was surprised to see their largest sign (30 feet in the air) proclaim $17 per hour as their starting wage!  The restaurant’s premium ad space was not directed to customers, but to potential employees! 

Wow, that’s $4 an hour over the $13 minimum wage if 25 employees or less ($14 if over 25 employees).  $35,000 a year for unskilled labor – that’s more than some teachers make.  I don’t think the Chick-fil-A prices have increased much, so this small business’s bottom line is being squeezed.  

At a local Denny’s, I called to reserve a table and was told that they close at 5pm because they had no employees!  What?  Yes, the manager advised.  “We need 30 employees, but only have ten. We can’t find anybody to work.”

I related the Denny’s experience to a friend, who said, “It serves them right.  These big corporations don’t pay a livable wage to workers to risk their life with Covid!”  I explained that this Denny’s is a franchise (a small business owner who I know) and Covid barely impacts younger, healthy people.

Clearly, the lack of employees has become a big thing for many businesses!  Remember Costco food samples by Club Demonstration Services (CDS)?  A highlight of my Costco visits!  They stopped with Covid, but they’re back, in limited number.  A CDS employee advised that they need 25 servers at Folsom, but could only find five, and one of those drives 36 miles from Jackson – one way!  

Kathrin Grosse, a German immigrant, started Kathrin’s Biergarten in Rocklin in 2017, says the employee shortage for she (and vendors she depends on) is extremely stressful — working herself and family to death while not knowing what business hours she can keep open due to staffing.  “Soon people will not know how to work anymore and feel entitled.  And, when I’m closed, it hurts my people who want to work!”

Here’s the thing, basic unemployment is about $400 per week (it ranges $40-$450), and the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) provides $300 weekly.  That’s $700/week, $2,800 a month, or $36,400 a year! 

A manager of a Tahoe breakfast restaurant was blunt:  “Not everyone wants to come back to work.  If you work, you make $3,000 to $3,500 plus a little extra tip income.  But, if I can make $2,800 a month, why bust my ass, I’ll stay home!”

The lesson is that government interference with the economy is a delicate balance (from “laissez-faire” to “command and control”) and almost always creates “unintended consequences.”  Working years in the Governor’s Finance, I was briefed on these matters.  For example, Proposition 13 reformed taxes, but that created other problems, so we did something else…which created new consequences, so we tried another thing, and so forth.  The current FPUC extension ends Labor Day, but it could be extended to 2022 (per rumors as of this column submission).  

Government tends, with the best of intentions, to bumble along.  Nobody thought the FPUC payments would stifle employment by creating a worker dependency upon government money – disincentivizing employment.  Politicians were being “nice.”  But the “politics of niceness,” as I call it, creates problems.  Bureaucrats who live thousands of miles away cannot predict all consequences.  And, their “one shoe fits all” approach seldom works well.

Hence, decentralized decision making is usually the best approach.  Local decision makers are in-tune with local circumstances.  And, better yet, the most decentralized process is to provide reliable information to citizens and let them make the best choices for themselves!  In this way, we have liberty, as well as healthy decision making.  

Decentralized government to practical extent is an important protection of our unalienable rights.  This is the sixth principle in my list of founding principles of our America.  This is why Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1811, “(T)he true barriers (defensive walls) of our liberty in this country are our state governments …” 

To Newsom or Not to Newsom

This article was first published in print and online on August 27th in Bruce’s “We the Government” column. For more information about his biweekly syndicated column, be sure to read the introductory post here.

Governor Newsom’s recall election concludes September 14, and the rhetoric is heating up, so it’s important to carefully evaluate what’s being said!  We will see more political advertisements bombarding us!

The first ad I saw was the rapid-paced Newsom’s “Roaring Back” blitzkrieg.  It starts with, “Newsom is delivering money to your pocket!”  It continues … $1,100 in your pocket, plus $500 if you have children (Covid relief).  It then proclaims he delivered $4 billion in small business grants (again Covid).  A couple projects by Newsom are mentioned and it ends with “Free Pre-K” for every child!!  

Honestly, my first reaction was that Newsom is paying us to vote for him.  Money for everyone!  However, most of that money is federal money and all of that money is taxpayer money.  

The other ad I viewed was US Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) “Here’s the Deal” declaration.  “Republicans across the country are attacking the election results and the right to vote.”  And, she asserts, these same evil forces are attacking California in a power grab.  This “Partisan Recall” is “abusing the recall process,” Warren declares!

How so, I wonder?  How is the process being abused?  The process was laid out in state law for anyone to use since 1911.  

Since 1913, eleven recalls have qualified for the ballot (of 179 attempts) and six were successful per the Secretary of State.  Of those six, three republicans and three democrats were recalled.  That doesn’t seem too partisan.  And, if this is such a partisan power play, why is Warren from Massachusetts doing the ad and not one of our two US California Senators (both democrats)?  Other Newsom ads speak of “anti-science republicans” and other guilt by association smears.

And, by the way, if you ask who is funding the Warren ad, it’s Reed Hastings (Netflix founder/CEO) who was also on the board of Facebook; the Service Employees International Union #215 (state employees union); and the California Democratic Party.

Newsom blasts the $276 million cost of the recall, which is a lot of money.  However, that pales with other state expenditures, such as the proposed $1 billion being foisted by the legislature to tear down and rebuild the Capitol annex so legislators can have new luxury offices!  The recall is a legitimate expense of citizens exercising ownership over their government.  The Annex is just the legislators padding their own chairs!

There are approximately 22 million registered voters in California.  About 24.2% are republicans, 46.1% are democrats, and 24% have no party preference.  To gather the 1.5 million signatures to qualify the recall (1.6 million were collected), I am confident that there were a few democrats mixed in the petitions.  And, last spring when Newsom touted the 30 day period when people could retract their signatures … less than 50 did so.  How embarrassing!

In an August 2-4, 2021 statewide poll for the San Diego Union, 51% favored recalling Newsom (up from 36% in May).  Only 40% wanted to keep him (down from 47% in May).  

Now, you may like or dislike Newsom, and I’ll keep my opinion to myself, but I can confidently predict the recall is not about partisanship, but perceived performance by the voters.

If voters do recall Newsom, we have 46 replacement candidates, most of whom are useless, “vanity candidates” who clutter the names of the six or seven serious candidates.  Yes, with $4,200 and 65 friends, you, too, could have run for governor!  Please don’t waste your vote on a lost cause candidate, the issues are too important.  Just be glad we don’t have the 135 candidates as we did in 2003 with the Gray Davis recall.

Be skeptical of advertisements.  Beware of what is promised but unproven!  Come to events, such as our SacTax (Sacramento Taxpayers Association) interviews with Governor candidates this year.  Be informed and intelligent.  Exercise ownership over our governments. These recommendations will make each of us better citizens!

Bruce’s “We the Government” Column

Beginning in August, Bruce started writing a bi-weekly editorial column called “We the Government” for a publishing group of over nine newspapers distributed across Northern and Central California.

It is both an honor and a great responsibility to be provided a platform that reaches over 500,000 readers, one that Bruce doesn’t take lightly. In addition to offering useful, less covered, insights into regional, statewide, and federal politics and business, Bruce hopes to empower the region’s citizens to get involved with their governments at the local level. His years of experience in politics and business provide him with unique insights into how to be effective change makers, and it starts with taking responsibility for how our communities are governed, hence the title of the column, “We the Government.”

Please see below for the first article published in the “We the Government” column, and be sure to check back or subscribe for future publications.

We The Government

“WE THE PEOPLE” begins the Preamble of the US Constitution … signed September 17, 1787 and ratified June 21, 1788. The preamble is a brief introductory statement of the Constitution’s core purposes and guiding principles.

Thanks to the vision and sacrifice of the founders who established our constitutional republic – we have a nation which is founded on ideals and not personalities. There was no king, no tribal chief, no dictator, no military general, it was “We the People” ruling ourselves.

However, many of us do not consider the obvious next step is that “We the People” also means “We the Government”.

For many of us in our daily lives, we think of the government as a “them”. They are telling us what to do. They are taking our money through taxes. They are being fair or unfair. They are not doing enough or doing too much!

But actually, the government is us! We have nothing to complain about … unless we are complaining about ourselves. We get exactly the government we deserve. If we do not like our government, it is our own fault. Now that may sound harsh and blunt … but ultimately it is true.

Therefore, we cannot simply treat our government as something to sneer at, but rather we must treat it as something we own! Because we do. We own our government. And, we must exercise our ownership over our governments – local, state, federal, and otherwise.

However, as owners, many of us have delegated too much authority to our employees – those employees being our elected officials. And, that is precisely what elected officials are – our employees. They are accountable to us, the owners, the citizens. We owe them courtesy and respect, as we should do with all people. But, they are our employees.

Moreover, while some have delegated too much authority; worse yet, some of us have abdicated our authority to these employees! We become absentee owners who in our minds have let the employees become our masters and we the servants. (Remember, we call them “Public Servants”.) But abdication breeds an erosive attitude of, “I am not responsible for my community or my life; they (the government) are responsible.” Personal responsibility becomes diminished and government responsibility is enlarged. As an elected official, how many people came to me to complain about this or that … but when I asked them if they voted in the last election, their reply would be, “No, I was too busy.”

In light of this collective complacency, this ongoing “We the Government” column is dedicated to empowering citizens to exercise healthy ownership over their governments. And, being a responsible owner … a responsible citizen means that we must care, be informed, be good decision makers, and be involved! And, I know that sounds like a lot of work and that we are all busy, but remember what we have to lose – liberty, choice, freedoms. We have a unique, remarkable society – the envy of much of the world.

Remember, left to its own, everything declines and dies. A rolling ball on the ground stops. A flourishing business goes idle. A marriage fails. A government morphs into something hideous. Energy must be invested to keep the ball rolling, the business fresh, a relationship full of love, a government on track to be the servant of its citizens.

The good news is that our forefathers paid the biggest price to start our constitutional republic, and we only have to keep it going. The ball on the ground must be kicked hard to make it roll, but once rolling only a little more energy is necessary to keep it moving in the correct direction. And, as Helen Keller observed, “The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.”

We do not have to be a hero to keep our community sound, but all of us must work together with each of our “tiny pushes”. If you are interested in learning more about how to preserve our freedoms and become “We the Government,” I look forward to continuing our conversation in upcoming articles for this column.

I’ll be sharing information about local organizations, such as the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, that are empowering citizens locally; practical steps about how to hold our government leaders accountable; and lesser know political news that has major implications for our local freedoms. In the meantime, stay hopeful and keep carrying on our torch of liberty!

Bruce Named “Citizen Advocate” of the Year

Bruce was recently named California’s citizen advocate of the year from the prestigious Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

He was recognized for the work accomplished as the President of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association (SacTax). Under Bruce’s leadership SacTax achieved a number of majors policy wins for the great citizens of the Sacramento region. These included:

  • Measure A – A Half Percent 40 year Sales Tax Increase in Sacramento County – WITHDRAWN
  • Measure M – One Percent Forever Sales Tax Increase in Citrus Heights, CA – DEFEATED
  • Proposition 15 – Split Roll Property Tax – DEFEATED
  • Proposition 21 – Increased Local Government Rent Control Authority – DEFEATED
  • Change of Election Cycle for County Sheriff, District Attorney, and Tax Assessor – DEFEATED
  • COVID-19 Enforcement Fines of up to $10,000 on Business Within the County – WITHDRAWN

Bruce considers it a privileged to serve his fellow citizens, and it was a very humbling gesture to be recognized for his work.  He received the award with tremendous gratitude! 

20 Life and Financial Principles for a Better Future

These are a few principles gleaned from personal experience, years working as a business consultant, and from my experience as an advisor in the Governor’s Finance for the State of California. If you take the time to read through and apply even a few of these principles, I’m sure you’ll see positive results in your life!

1) Manage your life, rather than let your life manage you.

2) Track your income and expenses – without that, all else is just guessing.

3) Evaluate your financial decisions and purchased based on your “Return on Investment.”

4) Manage your risks to achieve your end goals (use savings or insurance, etc.).

5) Know your goals – they help you to keep your focus.

6) Money does not behave like math.

7) Spending wisely – (i.e.: rent versus buying).

8) Maintain balance in your life.

9) Know how to generate revenue.

10) The world is a complex place. By the time you hear of the “good deal”, it’s likely too late.

11) Character impacts us and others.

12) Wealth only makes you more of what you already are.

13) If you see someone with a nice home, it means that they are likely doing something of value for their society.

14) Be a producer, in contrast to a consumer.

15) Your life financial plan is like going across an ocean in a general direction with the hope of finding a safe harbor which you cannot yet see. Many things, such as waves, storms, and poor choices will impact you as you negotiate your way. It is not like following a path through the woods.

16) Everything you do has financial implications – perhaps big, perhaps small.

17) Of the five major resources in life, you are always transferring one resource into the form of another resource.

18) Keep your maintenance costs low, and maximize assets you can invest in order to achieve a greater return on investment and build for the future.

19) Plan long-term. Maturing is sacrificing short-term satisfaction for long-term gains.

20) Discipline is a key element for almost everything.

A colossal waste of money

This op-ed was first published in the Sacramento News and Review on February 3rd, 2021. https://sacramento.newsreview.com/2021/02/03/a-colossal-waste-of-money/

All too recently, we anticipated a $54 billion state budget deficit, expecting cuts to funding and resources that would continue the economic onslaught of the pandemic. In the new year, however, we find ourselves with a $15 billion one-time budget surplus, and a proposed 2021-22 budget of $221 billion. We should welcome this good news, as Californians have endured stay-home orders, job loss, and the countless consequences of the devastating pandemic. The Governor’s plan to direct funds to schools, small businesses, and even provide small refunds to taxpayers could mark the beginning of our state’s slow recovery. However, we should urge our Governor and Legislature to spend with caution, and hold them accountable to spending that truly benefits California’s taxpayers.

With the expectation that our elected leaders should serve with the interest of their constituents in mind, it should not be too much to ask that a luxury project which sidelines the needs of Californians should itself be sidelined. This project – known as the Capitol Annex Project – will demolish-and-rebuild the historic Capitol Annex (which houses lawmakers’ offices), build an underground parking structure exclusively for high-ranking elected officials, and construct a visitors center, to the tune of a whopping $1 billion dollars.

To put this sum in perspective, consider similar spending plans outlined in the state’s proposed budget: $1 billion dedicated to the wildfire and forest resilience action plan; $1.1 billion in relief for small businesses; and $1.5 billion to achieve the state’s zero-emission vehicle goals. There is no doubt $1 billion can go far in helping Californians – so why waste it on a project that would only benefit our politicians?

Certainly, ensuring the safety of our legislators’ workplace is important. Yet, experts say that the Capitol Annex can be retrofitted to address health and safety concerns for a fraction of the cost of the legislature’s current plan. Additionally, a “Swing Space” that would house legislators during the Annex rebuild is already funded at $450 million, with office space and parking aplenty, that could be used permanently. As for the visitors center, moving forward with a Disneyland-like attraction during a pandemic is ill-conceived.

Most concerning of all is where the $1 billion project funding will be pulled from – the wallets of taxpayers. Since the project was approved to be funded using revenue bonds in a fiscal emergency, that means we are racking up 30% more in interest on the debt to be repaid over 30 years, ballooning the cost of the project.

To make matters worse, the Capitol Annex scheme was concocted with little to no input from interested parties or the public. The legislature denied project information to the Historic State Capitol Commission – which was created by the legislature in 1976 to protect the State Capitol’s historical and architectural restoration integrity – resulting in the resignation of two commissioners in protest. Why all the secrecy?

Even without the COVID crisis, the Capitol Annex project is a stunning waste of taxpayer dollars – especially when the state has so many pressing matters that need to be addressed. While we can be hopeful about the budget surplus, we need to face the realities of today. Californians are still struggling to put food on the table, many remain unemployed, and many continue to face eviction and homelessness.

While the proposed 2021-22 budget did not include details on the Capitol Annex plan, we should surely keep an eye out for a budget trailer bill, given the Legislature’s continued efforts to cloak the plan in secrecy.

As the Legislature resumes session, they have a responsibility to Californians to focus on our economic recovery, ensuring Californians needs are met first. The Sacramento Taxpayers Association joins other taxpayer groups, small business, preservationists and environmentalists in calling upon Governor Newsom and the legislature to pause the Capitol Annex Project, and re-evaluate its need with input from experts and the public.

W. Bruce Lee is the president of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization committed to promoting efficient, economical government, and fair and equitable taxation which permits a strong, healthy economy, sensible balance and rational control of government expenditures. He can be reached at Bruce.Lee.STA@gmail.com.

Three Months of Observations – Lessons Learned

Good day, dear readers! I’m W. Bruce Lee, President of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association (SacTax) which is responsible for all of Sacramento County. My responsibility is to represent you, the taxpayers. You may have read earlier OpEds regarding the November 2020 sales tax increase ballot Measure M in Citrus Heights – which was wisely defeated by the voters in the recent election. My purpose in writing today is not to focus on “M”, but on the lessons learned and observations gleaned from our three month intensive effort to defeat M. There are things which I believe the voters need to no.

Now Measure M was a BAD TAX proposal and you should have clearly voted “NO” on it. Simply put, the bad tax formula is:

No Accountability + No Sunset (never ending) + No Guarantee on how spent = BAD TAX

Plus to compound the problem, a sales tax is the most regressive of taxes which disproportionately hurts the lower income, fixed income, disadvantaged, and elderly. This is precisely why the NAACP opposed Measure M. And, this tax was proposed during the middle of a pandemic/economic crisis when thousands were unemployed or underemployed, and local, small businesses are shutting down – many to not reopen. How silly was that?

And, in this case, the City of Citrus Heights did not need the money as they only had a two-year problem until six million will come in annually from property taxes; plus they can manage their own expenses when things are lean, just like every family must do. That may not be their first choice, but they can do it.

However, that being said and the stage set, let me please share the insights I have learned about the governance of Citrus Heights over the past three months while working on Measure M. I have served as a local elected for years; teach governance at the university level; worked for years in governance at the state and national levels; and prior to Covid-19 made 4-5 tours annually coaching and teaching on governance in many parts of the world. I say this ONLY to indicate that I have some knowledge base on this subject.

Here are some general and specific observations which you may find useful:

1) Citizens, you must take responsibility and ownership of your governments – local, state, etc. They are not some vague entity about which we speak in vague terms. The government is YOU. It is US. However, while citizens have delegated responsibility to government, many have abdicated responsibility for the community and just look at government as something to sneer at. Our government is no better than you or US together.

2) Council members in Citrus Heights appear to stay in office way too long. Now, institutional history is very valuable, but there is also a balance. When serving too long, Council members entrench their power base, and they get too close to staff where the council serves as a rubber stamp. And, they do not ask the hard, analytical questions. The “form or look” of governance replaces the “substance” of governance.

3) In my experience, not all elected officials are intelligent, though many are. Some are very likeable, but still not the “sharpest tool in the shed.” And, for all too many electeds, much of their motivation subtle revolves around ego. They like being called the Honorable this or that. We tend to defer to and treat electeds way too nicely, whereas they are simply our employees. Some electeds are just figureheads, only in the office as a stepping stone to greater political power – I find that particularly distasteful. (I remember one newly elected councilmember who a week after election was telling me his grand plans of who to suck up to so that he’d be reelected in four years. I told him, “Just focus on doing your JOB. And if you do a good JOB, then maybe you’ll be reelected.” Which points out, people often get into office for all of the wrong reasons. It’s not a public service, but an ego-satisfaction or career.

4) People like power and power corrupts. Then, the governance process becomes political, petty, and self-serving. You don’t provide honest, logical answers, but you “spin” things to get what you want.

Measure M was spun as 1 cent, not 1 percent. Even the ballot language was spun like a sales job. If it was honest, it would simply say, “A one percent sales tax with no sunset date projected to raise $12 million a year which may be spent in any way the current or future city councils may choose.” Clear, simple, and to the point. Of course, the current council cannot mandate how the money will be spent a couple of years down the road, unless the measure puts it into writing for the voters.

The city said they spent two years creating this tax proposal. Well, if they spent two years talking about this specific tax (and not broad priorities), then either they are terrible time managers or liars, because in a period of a 2-3 weeks in late July/early August, they rushed this tax literally at the last moment onto the ballot.

5) City salaries are massive. The City Manager compensation package was $411,610 in 2019 per www.publicpay.ca.gov of the State Controller. The President is paid $400,000 and has a lot more responsibility. The challenge with BIG compensation is that you begin to believe you deserve it, and the Manager will be up for more raises. Whereas, in reality, many people could do that job just as well for $200,000 or less. You can see the salaries for yourself at https://VoteNoOnM.org/No-Spin-Facts-About-M . Plus, watch the video of the City Manager making his August 2016 “No Debt” promise – a promise now long broken.

6) When power is consolidated, governance becomes petty … and people are afraid of their city. So many people have told me, “Don’t use my name, because if the city finds out I opposed M, there will be repercussions or social shunning.”

7) And when power is consolidated, self-serving dealings happen. Many vendors to the city (which are based outside of the city) poured thousands of dollars into the Yes on M in a “pay to play” program. Stone’s Casino donated $10,000! And amazingly, in the same month the “sunset” clause in their contract with the city since 1997 was eliminated completely. And, the “pay to play” plan worked, as Pro-M has raised around $50,000 compared to the few thousand raised by “No on M” from citizen donations and hundreds of volunteer hours.

“The Sanctuary” cannabis dispensary in Sacramento (based in New Hampshire) made three donations to the “Yes on M” and appears to want to open shop in Citrus Heights. Donations have come from Anaheim (a gaming company), Oakland, and many other cities outside of Citrus Heights.

In contrast, I was not even allowed to speak at the August 31st Chamber of Commerce debate about “M”, because I did not live in the city (though my responsibility covers the whole county). The great lion’s share of pro-M funding came from vendors OUTSIDE of the city. But, I guess, – different rules for different sides.

Let me also observe how the Chamber and the City have a mutually symbiotic (self-serving) financial relationship. Rather than representing the business interests of their hundreds of small business members, the Chamber was the tool of the City. Thousands of City dollars go to the Chamber every year, as well as payments to Chamber leaders for business services. Bill Van Duker, an outspoken proponent of M and owner of All Star Printing, received $2,801 from Pro M for services, and as of October 1, he received $15,742 from the City. Ray Riehle, Government Issues and PAC Chair for the Chamber, received $2,999 from the city as of October 1 (four times more than last year); and the Chamber received $15,396 from the city as of October 1 (five times more than last year).

And the Chamber’s Executive Director, Diane Ebbit-Riehle, started the “YES on M PAC” on August 10th, three days before the City gave final approval to the measure. Fascinating! When this was highlighted weeks later, the PAC changed treasurers to Porsche Middleton.

Of course, Diane is the wife of Ray Riehle, and Ray was the debate moderator for the Chamber debate in which I was not allowed to participate because I do not live in Citrus Heights. (And, of interesting note, Diane and Ray do not live in Citrus Heights either – they only work there, just as I do.) Chamber members – you may want to check out this whole relationship between the Chamber and the City.

And, it was Diane, who at the debate on “M” for the Auburn Boulevard Business Association on October 6th commented, that if residents cannot afford to pay the new sales tax on a pair of shoes, that they can just go shop at Goodwill. (Wow, how arrogant and unconcerned about the disadvantaged.)

At the same meeting, the operating manager of Riebes Auto Parts, Jeff Hove, explained that a one percent tax increase will cost him $48,000 a year – a cost which he cannot pass onto customers or absorb himself, because he is competing with national auto part companies which can easily absorb this cost into their national system. That’s bad news.

8) Plus the city used public dollars to sell Measure M to the voters via public mailers and the like. Even the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Association (HJTA) on October 1st stepped in to tell the city to cease using public funds to advocate for Measure M, which is unlawful. HJTA just won $1.35 million from the County of Los Angeles for doing the same thing.

9) And worst of all, when you consolidate power, you continue to protect your power. On October 8, 2020 the city changed a 17 year policy where any two council members could put an item on the agenda for discussion to now it must be a majority (or three of the five council members). This change was done in anticipation that Tim Schaefer would be added to the City Council on November 3, as he was, so that he and reelected Council Member Bret Daniels could not place items on the agenda for discussion. This change insures that the minority will never even have the chance to discuss an item which the majority opposes.

The voters made a good choice in the November election to send Measure M down in flames. However, the ongoing battle for good governance is not over. Continued diligence is necessary. Let me say, beware Citrus Heights citizens. Inside the white washed tomb, some things stink within the city. And, if you continue to give them more power and more money, and do not take ownership of your government, the stink will continue to grow. SacTax stands ready to continue to work with you in the months and years ahead. Thank you for the privilege of serving you.

Truth: The Foundation of Governance

An article based on the presentation given by W. Bruce Lee at the Promise Governance Institute Conference in Covina, CA on October 8th, 2020.

Truth!  Wow, what a novel idea in today’s world!  And according to the recent song, “Truth be Told” by Matthew West, “Truth be told, the truth is rarely told!”

With instant communication, misinformation, hundreds of opinions bidding for our attention, where does truth come in the equation?  We hear tidbits of truth in 280 character tweets, snippets of news coverage, and all this from a multitude of new pundits on our preferred news channels.  And Google, so easy, so accessible, so searchable, and so instantaneous – that’s much easier and faster than searching for truth!  After all, if it’s listed in Wikipedia, it must be accurate … isn’t it??

And, given that fact that most people would prefer to have “truth” provided to them in easy to consume, prepackaged servings, the search for truth is not always popular.  After all, “truth” in this prepackaged form is usually more palatable and faster to obtain than the actual truth.  Yet, just as fast food is not as likely to truly nourish our bodies as a home-cooked meal; prepackaged truth is not as likely to nourish our minds as truth that is arrived at through due diligence and intelligent, analytical thought.  For as Henry Ford once observed, “Thinking is hard work.  That may be the reason so few engage in it.”  (The human brain is a bit lazy.)

Yet, while we live in a world that is flooded with information, truth itself remains as elusive and novel as ever.  This might seem counterintuitive, but unfortunately facts don’t speak for themselves.  Before we can arrive at the truth of any given situation, we must first take the information received and verify what is factual–a difficult task in and of itself.  From there we must organize those facts in a meaningful way and then interpret their relevance to the problem at hand.  All of this, however, can take a lot of time and energy. 

So, in a time of unprecedented access to information — albeit information that is a mixed bag of facts, half-truths, partial truths, truths that exist only in the eye of the beholder, and outright lies — where are we to turn?  What are we to think?  It is more important than ever that we commit ourselves to the diligent pursuit of truth.  

Marty Hooper, a pastor friend, came to me years ago, and said, “Bruce, you have the gift of prophecy!”  “What?  What do you mean?” I replied.  “Do you think I can predict when a disaster may occur?”

“Oh, no,” he said, “but you have the desire and drive to declare truth.”  I had never thought about that, but it is interesting how other people can see things in you that you do not understand yourself.  And my friend was correct — understanding what is true and declaring it is a major driver or motivation in my life.  But why am I so excited about truth?

Given that being focused on truth is a lot of work and people often do not like you when you speak the truth, there are still four reasons why I am passionate about truth.  

First, I would argue that the most important reason for this commitment is that truth is at the very core of the Holy Scriptures.  According to John 1:17, “for the law was given through Moses, grace and truth comes through Jesus Christ!”  And not surprisingly, when we honor the scriptures, we reap blessings in our lives.  And in the case of governance, this commitment to truth also produces good fruit.  Truth is the absolute foundation of good governance.  This axiom is supported by scripture and by the fruit that truth produces, including real results, peaceful reconciliation, and effective leadership.

Second, truth produces good results!  When people or governments operate with truth as their foundation, they get better and lasting results.  Here I am reminded of the parable of the wise man who built his house on the rock and the foolish man who built his house on the sand (Matthew 7:24-27).  When government leaders craft policies and make decisions based on truth, those decisions will be effective in the face of adversity.  By contrast, when politicians base their policies on faulty information or political preferences, the very foundation of their actions is like sand.  When put to the test, such policies will fail at best and cause lasting damage at worst.

Truth provides a foundation in that it provides:

Guidance to know what to do in a situation;

Wisdom to know the best way to go;

Strength to enable us;

Courage to motivate us; and 

Faith to help us act on the truth!

While building policies and implementing our actions based on truth seems like an obvious place to start, it can be surprisingly difficult to get a group of leaders to agree on what foundation to build upon.  A major reason for this is that humans have a remarkable ability to hide from the truth.  We do this almost unconsciously.  We hide when confronted with facts that are inconvenient or challenge our dominant beliefs, we hide when the truth has a cost, and we hide when the truth does not align with the popular opinion of the day.

The perfect illustration of this human tendency to hide from truth presented itself when a delightful, but rather overweight neighbor unexpectedly dropped by my home one day.  As I answered the door I was met, to my great surprise, by a now much slimmer woman!  She could see my surprise, and I told her that she looked great!  I did not want to embarrass or inquire as to how she had lost so much weight so quickly, though I suspected some type of surgery.  Not knowing exactly what to say, I commented that I track my daily calorie intake with an app on my smartphone … to which she replied, “Oh, you’re one of those!”  I was confused, what did she mean?  She then went on to explain, “You are one of those who like to know the facts.”  As I listened with great fascination, she explained how she avoided knowing the facts.  She said she had trained her young children to go ahead of her in department stores to alert her if there were any mirrors ahead so she did not have to look at herself.  She continued, “My daughter would call out, ‘mirror on the left’, and I would go right.  Or, my son would shout, ‘mirror on the right’, and I would go to the left.”  We spoke for several minutes but she knew she had been hiding from the truth – perhaps because it made her feel uncomfortable.  I thought to myself how exhausting it might be to live that way.

I saw this same ability to hide from truth in full effect in a different context a few years ago.  I have a rather socially liberal colleague in the Washington, DC area whose views I truly wanted to understand.  In an attempt to do so, I asked my friend if he would be willing to read a book together as an opportunity to concurrently discuss some of the philosophical and political views within it.  I suggested a particular book that I knew had many intriguing illustrations and conversation starters.  I did not personally fully agree or disagree with all of the book’s content, but thought it would be a great jumping off point for discussions on worldviews.

My friend agreed that this would be a useful exercise and I promised to bring him a copy of the book when I next saw him.  However, on my next visit when I handed him the book, he immediately opened it, flipped to a random page about two-thirds of the way into the book, read three to four sentences, and quickly shut the book with a thud.  He then declared, “I don’t agree with this paragraph” and refused to read anything else in the book.  Even after I explained that I did not agree with the entirety of the text, and that we mutually agreed to read a book that would prompt good discussions between us, he still declined.  I was stunned.

Evidently discussing ideas; learning from each other; and seeking truth together might have disturbed him.  It might be inconvenient.  It is encounters like this that can discourage us from having conversations with people of different perspectives.  However, the danger in that is we may become more and more polarized in our own echo chambers.  It then becomes increasingly difficult to reach useful compromises.  I believe, nonetheless, that it is possible to reach compromises without compromising the truth.

And this brings me to the third reason why I get so excited about truth.  Truth is a better goal than for what most people seek!

What do many or most people want?  It has been my observation that it is often some form of power.  It may be economic power, or political power, or social power – such as fame, acceptance, prestige or the like!  The tricky thing about power though is that it often becomes a zero sum game, a competition for who can get the most of it.  As I note in my document, “The Work of W. Bruce Lee”:

In our world of quiet suffering, the powerful have abused the powerless.  Overall, our world has been filled with conquest and oppression – the history of one powerful man taking away from another powerful man.  Public and private institutions have failed; economic systems or experiments have been less than fruitful; social systems falter, families are torn apart, and even religion has been disappointing.

And, the quest for power divides us!  However, when we replace the quest for power with the quest of truth, we find reconciliation and reduced conflict.  A fruit of pursuing truth in governance is peaceful reconciliation.  And, the phrase “peaceful reconciliation” is another way to talk about solving problems between two or more parties, and the pursuit of truth is key in this regard.

Typical “problem solving” involves two or more parties seeing a situation (call it the problem) and they each understandably define the problem from their point of view.  However, before exploring and discussing “the problem” with the other parties (so that they might understand the problem more broadly and perhaps even begin to define the problem from a “mutual point of view”), they quickly come up with their own solution to “the problem” from their unique vantage point.  And each of the stakeholders does the same thing.  They each understand the problem from their unique point of view and each has their own contending solution to “the problem” which reflects their viewpoint.

When the contending parties finally come together in a problem solving meeting to “discuss the problem”, they are often no longer attempting to understand the problem, but are now simply trying to “sell’ their solution to the other parties.  Each party attempts to “sell” their definition of the problem as being the most important and their solutions as being the best, irregardless of the whole truth.  The result is often more conflict, not less.  One party loses power, while the other party gains power.  Instead of a healing salve, there is only salt in the wounds.

One party may dominate the meeting which forces the others to withdraw.  A compromise may be fashioned which only achieves lukewarm success as nobody is really happy with the solution.  And, often the root of the problem is never resolved, but just resurfaces after some period of time in another form.  Truly understanding the problem from multiple viewpoints and building collaborative solutions that focus on mutual needs takes time, it takes trust, and it takes effort.  The results, however, are generally much more lasting!

When we replace the quest for power and domination over others with the quest for truth – with the desire to humbly learn from each other and a willingness to admit when we are mistaken – we build trust; we build relationship; and we build effective, lasting solutions.  The opposition is no longer my enemy.  They are now my colleague as we jointly unfold the problem to see it from all points of view, to seek truth, and to build successful solutions and reconciliation.

I recall on one of my work trips to Cote d’Ivoire, a military leader came to me and commented, “In Africa, we think, ‘you have this (product, luxury, or whatever), why don’t I have it, so I will take it from you (for myself).’”  However, he continued, “But you think, ‘you have this item, that’s good!  How can I earn it, too?’”  In essence, he was pointing out a change of paradigms – the first being a paradigm of power, the second being a paradigm of effective problem solving.

The beautiful and reconciling trait of truth is that it does not have to choose sides.  The truthbased method of problem solving requires that all parties take an honest look at each other’s needs.  It’s only then that a solution which works for all parties can be established.  The goal in this scenario is not power, but truth and reconciliation.  Letting one’s guard down to pursue truth can feel vulnerable, and it is!  Truth demands faith and love, rather than power and greed.  If you’re sensing a theme here, it might be that the pursuit of truth is difficult, and I would agree with that sentiment.  Yet, any difficulty is far outweighed by the beautiful fruits that result from pursuing truth!

This all leads to the fourth reason to be excited about truth!  Truth builds better people!  Truth keeps us humble and truth generates wisdom.  These are the types of people and leaders we need when it comes to solving our problems!

Effective leaders are people who inspire and lead from a humble commitment to truth.  The biblical account of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) comes to mind here.  I love this illustration.  When Jesus is asked by the Pharisees what to do, he says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her. … at this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first ….”   This is such a powerful illustration of the power of experience and humility in the face of a crowd seemingly bent on a particular course of action. It only takes one person humbly acting on truth to change the course of direction of an entire group of people.  That’s effective leadership.  

A commitment to truth can also help leaders rise above the crippling stalemate of political correctness.  Now of course we should always be courteous and thoughtful about what and how we say things, but it is a problem when speaking the truth is completely banned (implicitly or explicitly) because it might offend someone or upset our political allies.  When we commit to pursuing and speaking truth we can do so in loving and humble ways; and the quest for truth should give us the strength to do so.  Leaders thus empowered are able to offer creative solutions, bridge gaps, and shed light on the “elephants in the room” that simply prevent things from getting done.

In conclusion, pursuing truth in life and governance may be difficult, but it is essential, as well as scriptural!  An elderly woman wisely advised me years ago, there are always three sides to every story, “His side, her side, and the truth!”  Williams F. Buckley, Jr. also eloquently quipped:

“Truth is a demure lady, much too ladylike to knock you on your head and drag you to her cave.  She is there, but people must want her, and seek her out.”

A commitment to truth produces better lives, better policy results, peaceful reconciliation, and more effective leadership.  With the right resolve, courage, and a little bit of humility, we can bring truth back into governance for the benefit of all.  To conclude, I would like to leave you with a few relevant and poignant thoughts – excerpts with my points of emphasis on “Finding Truth – Abandon the Straightjacket of Conformity” from Leo Rosten (1908-1997) a humorist, a Polish immigrant to the United States, and one of my favorite authors:

We are raised so that we confuse a way of thinking with the way of thinking.  We must try – desperately hard – to see things not as we are but as they are.  The function of the thinker, the writer, the editor, — indeed the function of the free man and free mind – is, stubbornly and painfully to try to find truth – truth as it is, not as we want it to be, or hope it to be, or prefer it to be. 

We must learn to seek change without violence.  Always change, and never violence – not even in words, much less in deeds.

We must try to understand each other by reconciling ourselves to the fact that most of us never mature; we simply grow taller.

We must meet fanaticism with courage, and idealism with caution.

We must be skeptical of that which is promised, but not proved. 

We must be strong enough to be gentle.

We are instructed in Proverbs 3:5-7 to, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not on our own understanding. … Do not be wise in our own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.”  As we seek truth together, we have a foundation for successful governance and for successful lives in all that we do.

And, as I generally conclude, if anything I have shared today makes sense, let’s give credit to Jesus Christ.  And, if anything does not, then I take the responsibility.  Thank you for your time, your attention, and God bless you all richly.

Transportation Ignores the People … Higher Taxes, Now? … Really??

This article first appeared in California Political Review on 7/2/20.

Hey, are you aware of the half-cent sales tax increase proposed for Sacramento County on the November ballot to raise $8.4 billion over the next forty years for transportation purposes? It would make the countywide tax a whopping 9.25% – higher than 88 percent of all counties nationally!

(And, if you think this is a bad idea, you can go directly to the bottom of this Op-Ed to learn what you can do about it!)

What’s going on?

On May 14th, the Board of Directors at the Sacramento Transportation Authority (STA) passed ordinance NO. STA 20-01 (Measure A) with a one vote margin sending it to the County Board of Supervisors on July 14th – the last step before the November ballot.

At the March STA Board meeting, there were 435 comments of opposition compared to about 60 in favor. In May, there were as many as 700 opposition emails running at a ratio of 10:1 to those in favor. However, despite the large outpouring of public opposition to the ordinance, most STA directors first justification of their vote was by casually dismissing the opposition as “organized”, and then argued that “voters should decide in November.” Three days later, one STA Director who voted against the measure (Citrus Heights Vice Mayor Steve Miller) commented in the Citrus Heights Sentinel, “I got over 700 emails against it … I don’t know how some of the directors on the STA board could ignore that. … I think it’s going to go down in flames, … I don’t think it’s the time.”

Nobody forced these hundreds of people to take time out of their day to express to their concern publicly. I saw the emails. Many, many of them were well-crafted missives written from a wide variety of community members. If you were one of the more than 600 people who took time to write a letter of opposition to this sales tax, sorry, your opinion does not matter — it was “organized.” It makes you wonder if the Board of Directors, who are also duly elected officials whose primary goals are to serve their constituents, really values the “voters” as much as it does carrying out its predetermined agenda.

And, the second justification used by the STA Board that we should let the voters decide in November is an almost universal “cop-out.” (That is avoiding doing something that one ought to do.) It’s saying, “don’t blame me!” Having served as a local-elected myself, it’s just a too easy thing to say. But this is really a question of how we are going to spend $1 million of the taxpayer’s money and it’s a question of good stewardship. (STA polling has clearly shown that the public does not want this tax for the services proposed.)

Apparently the STA board would rather force the public to foot a one million dollar bill, the estimated cost of putting the measure on the ballot, than seriously listen to the public stakeholders.

If that one million dollar figure made you do a double take, it should have! This figure comes directly from the Sacramento County Registrar of Voters. In fact, they put the exact cost of putting the sales tax on the ballot at $1,027,913.08! (The basic setup fee is $4,920.00; the sample ballot will cost $148,382.54, and staff-related costs add up to $874,610.53 – God knows why it costs that much, but it does! (The cost of the public sector vs. the private sector is another topic.)

Those opposed to the sales tax have real concerns regarding both the timing and nature of the proposed tax. For one, we are in the middle of a pandemic, with over 35 million people nationwide facing unemployment and economic hardship. The April California unemployment rate was 15.5% – higher than the great recession of 2008! The STA’s response, “Let’s tax everyone more on the things they buy!” How can it possibly be a good idea to increase sales taxes at a time like this? However, the Directors at the STA argued their third justification that “things” will be different in November, but is there any evidence to arrive at that conclusion?

Yes, indeed in five to six months, things will be different. They could be better or they could be worse. We don’t know. However, every forecast I have heard is that the recovery from this economic melt-down caused by the pandemic will be very slow and will take many months, if not years to resolve all of its ramifications.

Meanwhile, the tax impacts every resident of the county. And, if smart and you want to purchase a large ticket item, I would take the short drive to Roseville in Placer County to purchase it where the tax rate is only 7.75%. Let’s see, on a $30,000 purchase, maybe something like equipment, a vehicle, or whatever, I would save 1.5% (9.25%-7.75%) which would be $450. Hell, yeah, many people would drive 20 minutes to save that. Now, I wonder if that type of economic impact was factored into this tax proposal?

And, speaking of economic impact, there’s the inconvenient reality that sales taxes disproportionately affect those with the least disposable income: the elderly, those in single income families, the economically disadvantaged, and children. What about them? A sale tax is inherently regressive. That is precisely why social justice organizations such as the National Action Network and the NAACP are officially opposed to Measure A. And, others are rallying to oppose this including business groups, and many others.

But, as their fourth justification, STA directors pointed out that the sales tax would be an economic stimulus in this time of global pandemic! To which you might reply, “Huh? I don’t get that.” On the morning of May 14th, I sent STA Director Jeff Harris (Sacramento City Councilmember) a current opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee which noted that statewide, people are rejecting tax increases, to which he kindly replied, “It’s a good article, but did not cover employment. … Please watch the meeting today!” His comment mystified me.

Then, at the meeting, several STA directors touted that the sales tax will provide an economic stimulus for Sacramento County by hiring on average 3,300 workers over the next forty years. The logic is that we tax every resident a combined $8.4 billion (most of which is not being spent on road repairs – which is what residents want), but we will also hire 1,212 construction workers, 1,079 people to support “expanded” transportation services (light rail?), and 1,010 jobs which will be due to indirect suppliers and “induced” consumer spending.

However, to say the tax is justified as an economic stimulus strikes me as a “Trojan Horse.” It’s just saying we’ll take the money from taxpayers to pay a relatively few construction workers and others for a limited period of time! Meanwhile, most of the $8.4 billion is still not being spent on what the taxpayers want – our roads repaired!

Generally an economy is stimulated by tax cuts (not tax hikes), so people have more disposable income. Tax hikes generally dampen the economy. So, to say that the government is going to tax everyone more so that a few people can have jobs is just “robbing Peter to pay Paul.” It’s simply income redistribution.

It is an economic stimulus for whom? The April unemployment rate in Sacramento County is 14.7% (up 4.8% from March and growing). In the region, there are NOW 148,100 unemployed per the May 22, 2020 EDD report. 3,300 jobs IN THE FUTURE would be a tiny fraction of the currently unemployed. Meanwhile, an $8.4 billion dollar tax that would have an immediate harmful impact on working-class families. The promise of tiny, theoretical benefits in the future is not very convincing.

Residents are already paying a half-cent sales tax for transportation until 2039, as well as the recent SB 1 (2017) twelve cent per gallon gas tax for transportation, when is enough, enough?

Even in the Bay Area, their mega one-cent sales tax hike proposal for transportation was taken off the November 2020 because the timing was not right during a pandemic. This should be a wake-up call to the STA as well.

When a government agency ignores public opinion, offers flimsy justifications for their actions, and then just presses through, it seems that the bottom line is that they just want to do what they want to do. And, when all of this flies in the face of logical reason, it leads one to question what is their reason for the rush?

What you can do!

If, like me, you’d rather “stimulate the economy” by deciding where you want to spend your hard earned money, join me, the Sac County Residents Against Measure A (use the “Sign Up” button to register your online protest), and its coalition of taxpayers, social justice groups, business and community groups by making your voice heard.

Please contact your county supervisor before July 14th and let them know that now is not the time to push an additional sales tax onto the upcoming ballot – especially during a pandemic. And, if you are so moved to join this diverse coalition to express your disdain for doubling of our Sacramento County transportation sales tax, you can email your opposition message to Phil Serna, Chair of the County Board of Supervisors and separately to Darren Suen, Chair of the Sacramento Transportation Authority. In your emails, it is important to include the instructions of, “Please read my public comments aloud at the meeting.” The emails for both government organizations are the same: BoardClerk@SacCounty.net.

AND THEN, TO MAKE A MUCH BIGGER IMPACT, please join us at our 8am July 14th rally at the County Board of Supervisors – 700 H Street, Sacramento (between 7th and 8th at the Parking Garage Entrance). Please RSVP and more information, including a flier, can be found at https://july14rallynomeasurea.eventbrite.com.

Thank you for your help! And, be sure to thank Supervisor Sue Frost for her consistent opposition to Measure A! We are stronger together! We will make our voice heard! We do not want our sales tax for transportation doubled!

W. Bruce Lee, President, Sacramento Taxpayers Association and Coalition Chair, Sac County Residents Against Measure A