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 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 . 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:

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

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

Opposition to Measure A Coalesces as Disparate Groups Align | Elk Grove News Podcast

On May 22nd, Bruce was interviewed by Elk Grove News about why he and the Sac County Residents Against Measure A are opposed to the sales tax that residents will be asked to vote on in November. Bruce explains the details of the tax and outlines the broad coalition of people and organizations mounting opposition.

Listen to the Elk Grove News interview with W. Bruce Lee using the media player below:

Governance and the Lack of Civil Discourse

A Paper and Presentation for the Promise Governance Conference – Covina, CA – August 8-9, 2019.

Have we ever wondered what is at the heart of the political divide between the far right and far left in American politics? Is the far right really made up of greedy self interested, self-absorbed people, as they are sometimes described by the alt-left? Or, is the far left really made up of mush headed, soft thinking bleeding hearts, as they are sometimes described by the alt-right? Is there no way for these groups of people to come to consensus? Is it impossible for these diverse groups to understand each other and to work together for a common purpose? Must disagreements between opposing political or philosophical viewpoints only be solved with violence in words or behavior? 

As stated in the invitation to this conference, “governance should be the process of whereby interested parties interact at various levels, with the aim of reaching one or more mutual beneficial goals.” Therefore, effective discourse and problem-solving must lie at the heart of effective governance. However, it would seem in recent years there is a propensity for an increasing lack of civil discourse. Let’s briefly explore illustrations, the roots, and hopefully the potential steps to address this trend. The number of growing examples of the lack of civil discourse is occurring at the individual,community, business, institutional, and political levels. On June 22, 2018, Sarah Huckabee Sanders was ejected from the Red Hen restaurant in Lexington, Virginia only because she worked for President Donald Trump as his Press Secretary.1 Sanders wrote, “Last night I was told by the owner of Red Hen in Lexington, VA to leave because I work for @POTUS (President of the United States) and I politely left. Her actions say far more about her than about me. I always do my best to treat people, including those I disagree with, respectfully and will continue to do so.” Sanders’ waiter, Jaike Foley-Schultz, at the Red Hen commented on Facebook, “I just served Sarah Huckabee Sanders for a total of two minutes before my owner kicked her out along with seven of her other family members.” And, the Sanders incident occurred just days after Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen was forced to leave a Mexican restaurant in Washington, DC due to hecklers. 

While some were amazed by such treatment, others supported the Red Hen owner’s action by tweeting, “They don’t serve food to fascists? I will be promoting this restaurant to anyone I know in the area.” And name calling (i.e. “fascist”) to get your own political point across to someone else is far from effective, and is more emblematic of an emotional thought process, in contrast to a logical analysis. Somewhat famously now, around May 31, 2018, Samantha Bee, host of the “Full Frontal” TBS show, embraced vulgar name calling and foul language when she spoke of Ivanka Trump, daughter and advisor to President Donald Trump, “Let me just say, one mother to another, ‘Do something about your dad’s immigration policies, you feckless c–t. He listens to you. Put on something tight and low cut and tell your father to f—ing stop it. Tell him it was an Obama thing and see how it goes, okay?”2 Even though Bee later apologized for her actions, it reflects an emotional response to public policy which perhaps should best be handled analytically. 

This unwillingness to discuss sensitive issues neutrally and calmly does not bode well for our society and governance. As a first hand illustration, I have a personal friend in Boston, Massachusetts who is self-admittedly very “liberal” in his political philosophy. Let’s call him Robert for protection of identity. Over the years he and I have had some interesting conversations and I truly wanted to learn from him and understand his world point of view. To that end, I had been given 300 page book titled “Stealing America” by author Dinesh D’Souza, who immigrated to the USA from India with only $500 in his pocket and in 1991 became a naturalized citizen. I may not personally agree with all of his views, but I found his analysis of liberal and conservative political philosophy insightful – particularly in his sixth chapter. 

Over a period of weeks I told Robert of the book and inquired if he might be willing to read and discuss the book together so that I could learn his perceptions. He agreed and so I purchased a copy for him and gave it to him the next time I was in Boston. After chatting for a moment about our plan to jointly review the book, he took it, randomly opened it to a page mid-book, and read three sentences from the top right of the page. He then declared in a bold voice that he did not agree with those three sentences and therefore refused to read the book, despite our previous agreement! I was astonished and commented that while he might not agree with those three sentences (and that I did not agree with the entire text) that there would likely be something he would discover interesting or agreeable within the narrative. He flatly refused again and, unfortunately, that was the end of my attempt for us to learn from each other. I only share this true story to highlight the fact that when humans are unwilling to learn from each other, then communication, problem resolution, and effective governance will be hampered. 

However, such lack of willingness to discuss or learn from each other goes far beyond individual, personal interactions. On April 27, 2019, a small group of self-proclaimed white nationalist interrupted a Saturday author chat with chants and a megaphone at the Politics and Prose bookstore in Washington DC. The flash protest of ten people interrupted author Jonathan Metzl who was speaking to group of about 20 patrons on his book, “Dying of Whiteness,” with chants of “this is our land” for several minutes before leaving on their own accord.3 This behavior, however, is not restricted to one side of the political spectrum. A similar incident occurred just a month before at the same bookstore when Janet Napolitano, former Homeland Security Secretary, was interrupted by left-wing activists. 

Unfortunately, the freedom to have calm and civil discourse is being compromised by all sides. In part, this may be fostered by a sense of personal frustration as feeling unheard in the community dialogue. However, this type of behavior is actually encouraged by some political leaders. Congresswoman Maxine Waters (Democrat, California), who was upset with President Trump’s immigration policies, declared to a crowd of California supporters over the weekend of June 22, 2018 that, “Let’s make sure we show up wherever we have to show up. If you see anybody from that (Trump) cabinet in a restaurant, in a department store, at a gasoline station, you get out and you create a crowd, and you push back on them, and you tell them they’re not welcome anymore, anywhere.”4 

And, one can become suspect by your opponents only because of whom you might interact. On May 11, 2019, Ronald Sullivan, Harvard University Law Professor and Dean of Winthrop House since 2009, was terminated because of student protests over the fact that he accepted the role of being part of Harvey Weinstein’s legal team to defend him on two current rape allegations.5 The two roles were perfectly allowable by the University and did not conflict with each other. However, it would appear that it is not “politically correct” to be associated with Mr. Weinstein who has not yet been convicted of any charges, and approximately fifty students protested for Sullivan’s removal. Harvard Law Professor emeritus, Alan Derschowitz, blasted the University by saying, “This may be the worst violation of academic freedom during my 55 year association with Harvard. Any student who feels ‘unsafe’ in the presence of Dean Sullivan and his wife does not belong at a university. … ‘Feeling unsafe’ is the new mantra of the new McCarthyism. It’s an excuse for firing anyone, from a Republican to a Muslim. … If the student who demanded the firing of Sullivan had been around in 1776, John Adams would have been fired as an author of the Declaration (of Independence) because he made them feel unsafe for representing the Brits accused of the Boston Massacre.” 

And it is easy to violate political correctness, and it can be used as a punishing stick by people who simply have anger in their souls! Of this, I can provide personal testimony. Within the rarefied air of the Governor’s Office of California and its Department of Finance, it seems at times that the political elite can lose contact with the realities of the average working person. Once in an effort to be polite, I advised a co-worker who was waiting for me to finish a job at a photocopy machine, “I’m almost done, ma’am, it’ll just be a moment.” Her immediate response was to berate me for the better part of a minute … “Don’t you know respect? Didn’t you have professional training? Don’t you know the platinum rule – treat others as they want to be treated?!” Well, I simply did not know that she may not like the term “ma’am”, while others may find it respectful. And, I simply did not feel respected by her, as a simple, “Thanks for letting me know. I can wait a moment. But, for the future, I do not care for the term “ma’am.” That would have been a productive, respectful interaction; rather than to take the occasion to bully and berate me. And, the sky almost fell one day while conducting managerial training, as I referred to an “oriental” concept. Nobody, including all of my Asian colleagues, had any problem with the term, except for one human resource staffer who you would have thought died of a heart attack. Sorry, I just missed the memo is all that I could say. No offense intended. 

And, in this day of political extremes, even if you sound as if you are attempting to be reasonable, your own friends may turn against you. One example of this is US Senator Dianne Feinstein (Democrat, California) was roundly criticized by her liberal friends when, upon President Trump’s election in 2016, she simply stated that she hopes he does well. Then, on August 29, 2017, she was booed at a San Francisco event of 800 attendees when she said that Trump could be a good president if he changed his direction. “Look, this man is going to be president, most likely for the rest of this term. I think we have to have some patience – it’s eight months into the tenure of the presidency.” Feinstein, who is the oldest Senator at age 84, was met with shouts amid boos of “Oh, come on!” and “No, no!”6 And Trump’s own comment of there are “very fine people on both sides” regarding the Charlottesville, Virginia violence on August 11 and 12, 2017, has been roundly chastised. However, is it not likely that there could be or are fine people on both sides?7 It seems that people hear what they want to hear and interpret things the way they want to interpret things. As I have often said, it is a life principle that people seem to find whatever they happen to be seeking. If you are looking for employees who are doing good work, you will find them. And if you are looking for employees doing poor work, you will find that also, although they are the same employees in the same circumstances. 

And, there is an additional phenomena which is gaining increasing popularity when debating public policy – that of the economic boycott. In May of this year, Georgia (among other states) passed legislation restricting the use of abortion. Rather quickly, the effort was announced by the filmmaking industry in Hollywood to boycott making all films within Georgia, which in past years has benefitted from the movie industry.8 On May 28, 2019, Netflix said it would withdraw its business from Georgia. Following this, several other companies, such as Disney, CBS, and Sony Pictures, announced that they would reevaluate their production plans in Georgia if the “heartbeat abortion” law was not overturned by the courts before it goes into effect in January 2020. Now, what is the relationship between an unborn child’s life and the making of movies? I do not see any nexus. In a nation where we have an established procedure for making public policy, it is simply saying that if I lose in the democratic process, then I will pout, yell, and scream in the corner – much as a child would. It is resorting to economic violence. It is declaring that, “I don’t like your policy, so I am going to bully or economically beat you up!” 

United States Senator Bernie Sanders (Democrat, Vermont) has recently been espousing the concepts of Democratic Socialism on the campaign trail for the 2020 Presidential Election9. For those who do not believe in those concepts, should they economically boycott Vermont? No more maple syrup? Because you disagree with others over a matter of public policy which is debated in the normal, democratic legislative process, should one attempt to bully or intimidate them economically? Now, I believe in vigorous debate, but when the final vote is taken, that’s the new law. And even then, citizens should vigorously debate if the law should be changed. However, intimidation – physically, verbally, economically, or otherwise – is not part of legitimate debate. It is intended as coercion to force others to accept your point of view. It hinders effective debate, rather than enhances it. And in effective debate, all parties should have open minds and hearts to learn from each other. 

Indeed, scandal itself has become a tool of bullying and intimidation, which the media and general public love. John Marini, a professor of political science at the University of Nevada and a Ph.D. of government from the Claremont Graduate School, noted in his September 11, 2018 address at Hillsdale College that, “Scandal can provide a way for defenders of the (political) status quo to undermine the legitimacy of those who have been elected on a platform of challenging the status quo.”10 In other words, scandal, or the pretense thereof, can be an intentional tool used by political opponents to further their aims. And, I have seen this in my own personal service in government. Words and actions taken out of context by the media or political opponents to undermine public policy, to say nothing of outright lies used to smear a reputation for someone else’s political gain. And, in the words of the 1962 western film, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, the newspaper editor justified not publishing the truth in a sensitive political situation by saying, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” In this age of misinformation, beware — the reader, the writer, the freeman, the free mind. 

As Leo Rosten noted in his address to the 1962 National Book Awards in New York City: “The most critical problem which free men face today is to get some of their co-citizens to listen – to listen to that which seems to threaten them. For the right to talk involves the duty to listen. 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 the free mind – is stubbornly and painfully to try to find truth – truth as it is, not as we want it to be, or hope to be, or prefer it to be.”11 

In 2016, a quiet pizzeria in Northwest Washington, DC became the focus of a nationwide hoax now known as the “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory. Internet hoaxers alleged that the restaurant, Comet Ping Pong, was the center of a child-sex ring run by Bill and Hillary Clinton, as well as her former presidential campaign manager, John Podesta. The sex business was located in the basement of the restaurant, and the restaurant owner was slammed with hundreds of threats. And, on December 4, 2016, a shooting occurred when Edgar Welch drove from Salisbury, North Carolina, armed with a rifle and a revolver, to the Connecticut Avenue Northwest restaurant to investigate and save the children. Evidently well-intentioned, but misguided, Welch discharged his gun multiple times into a locked storage closet which he came upon. Fortunately, no one was injured, but Welch was sentenced to four years in prison. And, more recently, two years later, on January 23, 2019, there was an arson attempt in the same restaurant.12, 13 This is all so interesting because there was no child-sex ring. The restaurant does not even have a basement! Because of all of the misinformation and hysteria, I intentionally made a special trip myself to Comet Ping Pong in February 2017 to speak with the staff. I saw for myself that there was no basement and learned how the owner had to spend thousands of dollars to hire security guards to protect the establishment and its patrons. 

In my personal opinion, we should consider making intentional fake news illegal and criminal. In a society where “truth” should be the foundation for intelligent decisions and public policy, to intentionally create and spread false news is despicable. Fake news discourages civil discourse, and it can certainly be used to create political advantage. However, even prohibiting fake news would not prohibit people from acting foolishly. My experience has taught me to not jump to conclusions; if you can, to go see for yourself; and to withhold making a judgment until you have all of the information. So let us briefly recap our situation. First, governance requires problem solving among all parties. Second, problem solving requires understanding among all parties. Third, understanding requires meaningful dialog and communication among all parties. And it is at this third step were our process, due to the lack of civil discourse, is faltering. 

The third step is being inhibited and we have seen examples of this at the personal, community, institutional, corporate, and political levels. Situations where emotions override rational thinking. Situations where seemly one or another feels that they must win and others lose at all costs. Situations where coercion is justified. 

And, the impact of this breakdown in step three, the lack of civil discourse, is significant. The impact creates feelings of being inhibited or feeling suppressed. The inability to express ideas leads to less viable solutions to community problems. Ideas become diluted as sugar in saltwater. And, the lack of tolerance of other ideas generates even greater emotional hostility. Indeed, those that make civil discourse impossible, seemingly make violent revolution inevitable, which is an unfortunate turn of events for everyone. Perhaps if I yell louder than you, then I will be heard or win? This becomes the new mantra. If perhaps I can throw a tantrum to intimidate, bully, or coerce, then maybe I will be heard or win? Perhaps if I use economic, social or other pressure, I can shame you into submission to my will? Or, perhaps I can follow the legal maxim as coined by Carl Sandberg, “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.” However, it is a slippery slope, if we are tempted to believe that if you do not agree with me, then you must also hate me. For our duty is to understand each other, and never to resort to violence. In the words of Rosten, “We must learn to seek change without violence. Always change, and never violence – not even in words, much less than 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 proven. We must be strong enough to be gentle.” And, as Stephen Covey well describes in his book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”14, the fifth identified habit is that we must first seek to understand others, before helping them to understand ourselves.

So, while our process was derailed in the third stage above – understanding requires dialog and communication; we must look at the fourth and fifth steps for solutions and resolution. Fourth, dialog and communication requires trust. Fifth, trust requires relationship. And from my work in peace and reconciliation in various parts of the globe, sixth, relationship requires forgiveness. Seventh, forgiveness requires the ability to change, and eighth, the ability to change requires humility. Therefore, our most central, core problems facing us in reviving civil discourse include 1) personal character; 2) the self-control of emotional response to logical thought; and 3) to rid ourselves of fallacious thinking, which takes many forms, including (among others): • Attacking the person rather than his argument. (Ad Hominem), • Appealing to emotion, and • Hasty generalizations. And if we think that opposing sides are just too far removed from each other to ever come to consensus, yet alone friendship, let me refer you the true story of Ann Atwater and C.P.Ellis, as chronicled in the 2019 movie, “The Best of Enemies”15. Reluctantly, Atwater, known as “Roughhouse Annie”, a strong willed and tireless activist for the black community; and Ellis, the Exalted Cyclops of the Ku Klux Klan in Durham, North Caroline, agreed to co-chair a series of court-ordered mediation meetings regarding integrating Durham Schools in 1971. The story of how these natural arch-enemies became friends over a lifetime, as they developed respect and care for each other, is touching and inspirational. If they can accomplish this in the strained times of the 1970’s, then surely it can be done again … and again.

The owner of the Red Hen restaurant, Stephanie Wilkinson, later told the Washington Post, that when she decided to kick Sarah Huckabee Sanders out of her restaurant that “there are moments in time when people need to live their convictions. This appeared to be one.”16 However, in retrospect, rather than ejecting Sanders and her party from the restaurant after being seated only two minutes, would it not have been more effective to take the opportunity to have a brief, calm dialogue between the two women? How often would Wilkinson and Sanders have the opportunity to meet in person? Perhaps a meaningful relationship could have been built. It was likely a wasted opportunity due to an emotional reaction which was neither respectful nor caring.

At the root of all of these matters regarding uncivil discourse is human character, human foolishness, and human selfishness. As Galatians 5:19-21b (NIV) says in the New Testament, The acts of the flesh are obvious: ….(including) …. “hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy …. , and the like.” In contrast, the fruit of the Spirit (verses 22-23) is “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” And in verse 25, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Let us all continually remember and practice that we all need God and the power of the Spirit to surpass the power of the flesh! And, let us take hope in our generation by generation battle for civil discourse within our society, the encouraging words of Oliver Wendell Holmes that, “The mind, once e x p a n d e d to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.”

1 Denis Slattery, “Virginia restraurant refuses to serve White House press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders”, New York Daily News, June 23, 2018,
2 Megan Cerullo, “Samantha Bee Calls Ivanka Trump c-word on show, gets trashed by White House, sponsors”, New York Daily News, May 31, 2018
3 Marissa Lang, “Beyond Politics and Prose: White nationalist target bookstores, libraries in protests nationwide”, The Washington Post, April 29, 2019
4 Jennifer Calfas, “’They’re Not Welcome Anymore, Anywhere.’ Maxine Waters Tell Supporters to Confront Trump Officials”, Time, June 25, 2018
5 Talia Kaplan, “Alan Dershowitz slams Harvard’s decision to drop Weinstein lawyer as dean: ‘new McCarthyism’”, Fox News, May 12, 2019; and NEWSDAY, BBC World News, May 13, 2019
6 Casey Tolan, “Sen. Dianne Feinstein booed at San Francisco event after saying she hope Trump can change”, Bay Area News Group, August 29, 2017
7 Allan Smith, “Conway: Trump’s Charlottesville remarks ‘darn near perfection’”, NBC NEWS, April 28, 2019
8 Amanda Mull, “What Hollywood Boycotts Would Really Do to Georgia”, The Atlantic, June 5, 2019
9 Reid Epstein and Sydney Ember, “Bernie Sanders Calls His Brand of Socialism a Pathway to Beating Trump”, The New York Times, June 12, 2019
10 John Marini, “Politics by Other Means: The Use and Abuse of Scandal”, Imprimis, Hillsdale College, March 2019, Volume 48, Number 3
11 Leo Rosten, “On Finding Truth: Abandon the Strait Jacket of Conformity” Sunday Star, April 8, 1962 Text of Address at the National Book Awards in New York, New York.
12 Kath Smith, “’Pizzagate’ restaurant survives arson attempt and investigators have a suspect”, CBS, January 25, 2019
13 Fox News, “’Pizzagate’ shooter sentenced: What to know about the Comet Ping Pong conspiracies”, FOX, June 22, 2017 14 Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1990, Fireside of Simon & Schuster, New York, New York
15 Glenn McDonald and Drew Jackson, “’The Best of Enemies’ journey to the big screen is a ‘story that needs to be told’”, Raleigh News & Observer, March 29, 2019
16 Jennifer Calfas, “’They’re Not Welcome Anymore, Anywhere.’ Maxine Waters Tell Supporters to Confront Trump Officials”, Time, June 25, 2018
Copyright W. Bruce Lee, 2019; Duplication only with written permission.

Sacramento Transit Authority, This is No Time to Move Ahead with a Tax Increase

Here’s an excerpt from an article Bruce wrote as the President of the Sacramento Taxpayers Association, as published in Fox and Hounds:

Over the last month, the country has come to a complete standstill

In early March, at least ten California counties, including Sacramento, ordered their residents to “shelter in place” due to COVID-19: no one is to leave their place of residence except for absolute necessities. Soon after, Governor Gavin Newsom extended a shelter-in-place order to the entire state at least until May...

Read the rest of the article as originally published in Fox and Hounds here.

Photo by Alex Bello on Unsplash

A Time For Budget Reform

This article was originally published in the “CAPITOL BUSINESS : The Business-Government Connection” section of the Sacramento Union on May 5th, 1992.

The battle over Governor Pete Wilson’s initiative for budget and welfare reform in California is beginning to heat up this week.  Proposed last December and likely to qualify with 1.1 million signatures given to the Secretary of State two weeks ago, the “Government Accountability and Taxpayer Protection Act of 1992” proposes far-reaching changes in the area of “autopilot” spending.  In that regard, Wilson is exercising leadership in an area that deserves earnest attention and that will have a significant impact on business.

Too much of California’s budget is based on automatic cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) and “open ended” appropriations where the amount spent is determined by the number of applicants rather than by a decision based on the fixed amount of money we have available to spend.  As Wilson points out, “California government is running up a bill that California can’t afford.”

If California does run up a gargantuan bill, who’s going to pay for it?  The answer – business and those who reinvest capital.  The value of this initiative, according to proponents, is to place stronger management controls on our budgetary affairs.  Furthermore, it serves to protect the legislative system from continuously bending to pressures for increased taxes – taxes which destroy competitiveness, spur business flight and reduce the jobs available to Californians.

The initiative proposes some refreshingly serious steps for these serious fiscal problems.  Major provisions include 1) requiring a budget to be passed by June 15 of each year or else the Governor and Legislature forfeit their salaries and per diem until it is passed; 2) moves the deadline from January 10 to March 1 for submitting the budget proposal so that the proposed budget is more closely tied to current economic conditions with more accurate information; 3) allows the Governor to declare a fiscal emergency if the budget is not passed and signed by July 1.  The current budget then extends into the new year and the Governor can propose reductions in spending programs that are not protected by the constitution.  The spending reductions take effect in 30 days unless the Legislature enacts a balanced budget by a two-thirds vote; and 4) if the budget goes out of balance by 3% or more due to declining revenues or overspending, the Governor can then declare a fiscal emergency and propose budget cuts if the Legislature doesn’t balance the budget within 30 days by a two-thirds vote.

These measures really give the Governor additional clout in the budget.  However, opponents worry that too much authority is relinquished.  According to former legislative analyst A. Alan Post, the initiative gives the governor “total control over the state’s expenditure program.”  This is especially true when the 3% budget imbalance is defined per the budget estimates of the Governor’s own Department of Finance.  Nonetheless, we do need a much better management handle on our state spending.

While the initiative can be attacked from a “balance of power” perspective, it really gets emotional when the welfare reform provisions kick in.  California’s welfare system is now growing four times faster than our overall population – almost 12% annually and a recent report by the Legislative Analyst found that if a welfare recipient took a job paying $1,200 a month that their monthly income would drop by $150.  Obviously, welfare reform deserves some attention.

Common Cause and the League of Women Voters think they’ve found the proposal’s Achilles heel by asking the Courts to throw the initiative out because it covers two distinct subjects – budget and welfare reform – in violation of the Constitution’s “single subject rule”.  However, Wilson’s consultants contend, “You can’t have budget reform without spending reform!”

Common Cause and the League of Women Voters have sued under this provision to keep the initiative off the ballot.  They claim that obviously welfare reform and budget reform are not the same thing,

However, this is the part of the initiative which is receiving the most heated rhetoric by groups claiming that Wilson wants to “force mothers to choose between buying food for their children and paying rent.”

Unfortunately, even though the courts have been liberal in their interpretation of the “single subject rule”, whereby an initiative can only deal with one topic, this could be the Achilles heel of this proposal.   while the Wilson camp says that welfare reform is integral to successful budget reform.  However, it is also apparent that welfare reform can be the “sexy” attention-getter to draw positive voter consideration to the measure while the “drier” elements of budget reform just get pulled along naturally.

Obviously, in big-stake initiative politics, not everything is always as it seems.  And in that vain one of the silliest statements made so far was by the executive director of Common Cause who claimed they were filing the lawsuit “because, in this time of fiscal crisis, we can’t afford to spend taxpayer dollars verifying signatures and preparing for an election on a measure that is plainly unconstitutional.”  Well, that may be a reason of convenience, but it is clearly not the compelling reason why they simply want the measure defeated.

Bruce Lee expresses the views of the California Business League, a trade association dedicated to restoring quality government.  His column appears Fridays in The Union.  If you have comments or an item for the column, write Capitol Business, P.O. Box 60267, Sacramento, CA  95860.

The Warning of No Money and No Business

This article was originally published in the “CAPITOL BUSINESS : The Business-Government Connection” section of the Sacramento Union on July 3rd, 1991.

For the first time in over fifty years, the State Government of California has had a decline in its revenue from previous years.  The 1990-91 fiscal year just closed a few days ago on June 30th with a serious warning for policy makers – a revenue gap of $462 million dollars.  Not since the Great Depression in the 1930’s has California faced the problem of having declining revenues.

The economy is not totally to blame.  We have rarely seen so many years of sustained economic growth as we have in the recent past, even with our slight recessional dips here and there.  In fact, this recent recession appears to be bottoming out much sooner than many forecasters predicted.

While there are many reasons for the lost of revenue, in part I believe it is indicative of our state’s economic engine being dismantled business by business as California loses its economic and competitive advantage to our states.  After all, this is a free economy and nothing says that business has to stay here (or new ones come here), even if we are the land of Hollywood, glamour and sun-drenched beaches.

You may recall that even Jim Morgan, husband of State Senator Rebecca Morgan (R-Los Altos Hills), decided a few months ago to take his new $100 million facility for 2,000 employees out of California to Texas.  According to Mr. Morgan, “the attitude of state and local government toward industry is pathetic.”

When you consider the rising cost of living; workers compensation rates which are almost double some of our neighboring states; prevailing wage legislation; the potential of mandated health care; the proposals for split-role property taxes for business (which will keep coming back); and all of the regulatory hassles (such as SB 198 and the detailed worker safety requirements), why stay?

Aerospace officials expect that most of the Aerospace industry will flee California over the next several decades for all of these reasons.  And that is an unfortunate blow to the California economy when you consider that Aerospace alone employs over 150,000 Californians.  Those employees buy what they need within our local communities, and local government needs every sales tax dollar it can lay its hands on.  Furthermore, each manufacturing employee on average creates 2.25 jobs elsewhere in the state economy.

One company I am familiar with is moving out of its Los Angeles headquarters to the Midwest with the next two years, and taking over 700 employees with it.  The reasons?  First, the cost of living and doing business is over 25% less than in Southern California.  This will save the company millions of dollars which can be better used in product development and valuable new facilities.  Secondly, its employees struggle with the quality of life in Los Angeles area.  Homes are outrageously priced and thousands of man-hours are wasted behind the wheel in traffic jams.  Thirdly, new facilities out-of-state are less expensive than constructing new buildings within California.  Finally, medical care alone will cost one million dollars less than in California.  Given all the facts, they have little choice.  California is pricing itself out of the market.

Given all of the facts, our state and local governments better listen to the economic warnings of our first statewide revenue decline since the Great Depression.  The bell tolls for us.

Attack of the Killer Compact Disc

This article was originally published in the “CAPITOL BUSINESS : The Business-Government Connection” section of the Sacramento Union on June 27th, 1991.

On February 28th of this year, Assemblyman Terry Friedman (D, Los Angeles) introduced a bill into the legislature as an urgency statute to take effect at once for the “immediate preservation of the public peace, health or safety within the meaning of Article IV of the Constitution”.   The emergency – excessive packaging of compact discs and audio cassettes.  A less than burning issue on the minds of many Californians.

Well, this week brings the passage of the bill, now known as AB 861, from the Assembly to the State Senate.  Having passed the Assembly Natural Resources Committee 9:5, the Ways and Means Committee 17:5, and the Assembly Floor 42:31, the bill provides for a $250 fine if a retailer offers to sell an excessively packaged CD or audio cassette ($500 for second or subsequent offenses by reprobate retailers).  However, reasonably enough, the emergency provisions were stricken and the music industry was allowed a grace period until the end of 1992 to minimize its wasteful ways.

Now, Californians do need to change our wasteful ways.  Our landfills are brimming with everything from refrigerators and old televisions to twinkee wrappers and diapers.  However, legislative zeal can lead us a bit too far into improper regulation and micro-management.  Even the lobby group, Californians Against Waste, who support the bill, admit that it is “somewhat alarmist to suggest that CD packaging is destroying the planet”.  However, the current 6″ x 12″ packaging, which is twice the size of the product, is probably a good example of over-packaging.

Despite the good intentions, though, there are many other examples of waste within our society.  Aren’t cloth diapers better than disposables?  Couldn’t we all use cloth bags at the grocery instead of paper or plastic?  How about cereal boxes that are never filled to the top?  Do twinkees really have to be individually wrapped?  (Of course waste is in the eye of the beholder.)  If one industry has its packaging regulated, shouldn’t all of them be?

These types of business and social problems are best solved in the marketplace by the industry itself.  The Recording Industry Association of America claims that it has many concerns about how their products are packaged, including theft issues, refixturing retailer displays and racks (costing tens of millions of dollars), the ability to see and read labels, as well as retooling the machinery to produce and stuff the packaging.  All very legitimate issues, while not even mentioning marketing questions.  It is hard for non-industry people to completely forecast all of the ramifications in running a particular business when changes are mandated upon the industry.

If you don’t micro-manage legislative change, then how do things change?  Well, you get recording artists and environmentalists together to form a coalition called “Ban the Box” and you encourage consumers to leave the excessive CD packaging at the store as show of support for the proposed changes.  You work in the market place and let consumers express their concerns to business.  Business will listen.  It may take some time, but it’s better than abusing the power of government to run roughshod over individual and free enterprize rights.

In fact, Robert Simonds, President of Rykodisc, an independent recording label, did form “Ban the Box” last year and success has been forthcoming.  On March 26th, Jason Berman, President of the Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA), announced that, “There is unanimity among RIAA member companies that the disposable CD longbox is dead.  A number of environmentally friendly alternatives are under active consideration.  Every one of our manufacturing companies is working swiftly and diligently to explore the manufacturing processes involved, the materials to be used and any fixturing issues.”

It’s nice to see the marketplace work.  It is in the business community’s best interest to be responsive to social needs and requests.

The Grocer’s Plight of Bureaucratic Regulation

This article was originally published in the “CAPITOL BUSINESS : The Business-Government Connection” section of the Sacramento Union on June 22nd, 1991.

Sometimes it’s hard for the average citizen to fully appreciate the demands placed upon local business by government regulations.  If you have never run a commercial establishment, then you have probably never experienced it.  However, it is more than true to say that excessive regulation and higher taxes are literally driving businesses out the Golden State.

Grocery stores may be one of the more interesting illustrations of intrusive regulation.  For example, I hold in my hand a four page list of all signs which grocer’s are required to post in their stores within California (and this doesn’t include the variety of local city or county requirements).

We have equal opportunity signs.  Job safety and health protection signs.  “Polygraph Protection Act” signs.  Saccharin notices.  Discrimination in employment signs.  Industrial welfare signs on wages, hours and working conditions.  Minimum wage signs.  Log and summary of occupational injury and illness signs.  Access to medical and exposure record signs.  Emergency phone number signs.  Payday notices.  Worker’ Compensation Carrier signs.  Open and recycling center signs.

Signs regarding the unlawfulness to sell tobacco related products to minors.  Warnings that alcoholic beverages can cause birth defects.  Eating raw oysters may cause severe illness signs.  Handicap signs for checkout lines.  Employee signs regarding unemployment disability insurance.  Warning signs that tobacco smoking is known to cause cancer.  “Recycle your used oil here” signs.  Recycling window decals stating the nearest recycling center and cross streets.  And signs that say containers may be redeemed at a designated cash register, or designated location or with a designated person.

If I was a small grocer, I could run out of wall space, and this is only a partial list.  I would not bother to share the list in such detail, except that it provides a graphic understanding of the degree of government regulation which we have begun to take for granted in our society.  

Signs are just a symptom of even greater burdens which business has to bear.  Sales tax administration is another major headache for grocers.  It use to be simple – if you sold something edible, then you didn’t tax it.  Now sales clerks have to make decisions regarding all sort of products as to whether they are taxable; if they’re wrong, the store has to pay the tax anyway.  Bit by bit, some food became taxable and others not.  First it was soft drinks and then beer.  Now the clerk has to remember which bottles of water are taxed and which aren’t.  And the new, proposed “snack taxes” will tremendously multiple the complexity.

The clerk is now a tax collector and mistakes are often made.  According to Don Beaver, President of the California Grocers Association, it’s not uncommon for a Board of Equalization sales tax audit to place an extra $20,000 to $25,000 liability on a small grocery store for failing to tax everything properly.  The grocer ends up subsidizing the tax rolls because the taxable exceptions are too confusing.  Furthermore, due to all of the sales tax paperwork, it costs the average grocer 2.38 cents out of every dollar to pay for the privilege of being the tax collector.  Costs which are reimbursed by some states, but not by California.

Surely electronic scanners at the check-out will help, but they cost over $10,000 per lane.  With grocers having a 1-5% profit margin (depending on their volume), there isn’t a lot of room with which to play.  Currently, three thousand grocery stores in California have scanners, but five times that amount (over 15,000) are left to wrestle with bureaucratic complexities of the tax system.

These types of regulatory burdens are slowly killing business.  It is essential that policy makers come to appreciate the demands and trials of running a business, or we will continue to damage the economic engine of our state.

Bruce Lee expresses the views of the California Business League, a trade association dedicated to restoring quality government.  His column appears Fridays in The Union.  If you have comments or an item for the column, write Capitol Business, P.O. Box 60267, Sacramento, CA  95860.