Posts tagged ‘california’

Our Great Political Sport: Scoring Points Off Tragedy

If one needs any skill as a politician, it is the ability -- with a straight face -- to, with no evidence whatsoever or even against countervailing evidence, blame any tragedy that occurs on your own personal bete noir.  Thus the Gabriel Giffords shooting was due to un-civil discourse by Conservatives, Benghazi was due to a YouTube video, the Boston Bombings were a results of too lenient immigration policy, the Newtown killings were due to the excess influence of the NRA, and the Gosnell murders were due to the legality of abortion.

In this same vein I received this email from California State Senator Fran Pavley

The recent Ventura County wildfires were just the latest example of the huge costs of climate change to California, serving as a reminder of the need for continued action, Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills) said Thursday. Presiding over a hearing of the Select Committee on Climate Change and AB 32 Implementation, Sen. Pavley noted that the unseasonably early wildfire in Ventura County two weeks ago generated $10 million in firefighting costs. The dangers of climate change are no longer an abstraction, Sen. Pavley said.

“We can’t afford extreme climate, and so California doing its fair share to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is incredibly important,” Sen. Pavley said.

Wildfires are one of many costs of climate change, environmental officials and experts said at the hearing. California also faces flooding, heat waves and threats to its drinking water system.

Even before atmospheric levels of CO2 rose, the US had thousands, even tens of thousands of wildfires a year.  So against a backdrop which would expect many fires in California even absent climate change (natural or man-made), it would be heroic to attribute one single fire to the effect of mankind's  CO2 production.  But it is even more astounding given that wildfires in the US are actually down so far this year -- way down.  Here is the data source, and here are two charts the Real Science blog prepared from this data.

screenhunter_275-may-05-05-06 screenhunter_276-may-05-05-07

Health Insurance NOT the Same As Access to Health Care

Most of the Left wants to measure access to health care by the percentage of people who have health insurance, implying that those without insurance have no access to care.  But in fact the uninsured in the US have access to better health care than most other people in the world.

And it will soon become apparent that the converse is not true either - even with insurance, in a top-down rules-driven government-controlled health care system, one may not have access to health care.    For example, one of my employees was complaining that she was having trouble with workers comp getting care for her injury.  This is a follow-up email I received today from my insurance agent (redacted only for privacy issues):

I talked to [valued employee of my company, call her Jane] this morning regarding her lack of attention from [our workers comp insurer].

I then followed up immediately with [representative of workers comp insurer] working on her account, in Sacramento, CA.

It seems the problem is her injury occurred in CA and she's now in MO.  The doctors in MO don't want to see her due to the paperwork and issues required under the CA laws. 

Jane advises she gets relief from going to a chiropractor.  I told her to keep going and I would get [insurance company] to approve those visits, which [workers comp insurer rep] said she would.

So, it comes down to [our insurance company] trying to find an Orthopedic Doctor who will take her and comply with the CA requirements, which the Drs. don't like.

There is no issues on coverage, it's a political issue.

Already, Medicare and Medicaid patients have trouble finding doctors to treat them.  Enjoy the cozy feeling of being "insured" via Obamacare.  Let's hope that when you are sick, there is a doctor who will see you.

Workers Comp. and Unemployment

Breaking news from California:

The Workers' Compensation Insurance Rating Bureau (WCIRB) made it official and submitted a mid-year filing for a 9.1% increase in the pure premium advisory rate that Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones approved less than six months ago. The proposed July 1 increase follows the 37% increase that Jones approved for January 1 that was hidden by the change in benchmarks for pure premium rates that was made at his request....

The Bureau insists that an increase of this magnitude is necessary to combat the continued deterioration in the claims experience, as well as an uptick in claim frequency in the 2010 accident year. Much of the increase will also go to pay for the higher loss adjustment expenses carriers are incurring fighting liens and litigating permanent disability claims. Projected ALAE costs are up to $11,403 per indemnity claim for the 2011 accident year compared to $10,698 the year before.

A 9.1% increase a half year after a 37% increase is just crazy.  This tends to confirm three issues I have written about before:

  1. People are filing workers comp claims as a substitute for or a supplement to unemployment.  Our company has seen a significant increase in people "coincidentally" suffering an injury on one of the last few days, and particularly the very last day, before they are to be laid off.  Only such fraud explains an increase in claims when economic activity is way down, particularly when more dangerous professions like construction employment fell much more than office employment in the recession.  We have also seen, by the way, an increase in frivolous labor lawsuits in CA coincident with the economic decline.  A year ago I had an employee in CA tell me that she had attended a brainstorming session the night before among several of my ex-employees trying to generate ideas for ways to sue our company.  I can't wait for an improvement in the economy when the returns of working are higher than the returns of brainstorming ways to extract money from our company via the legal system.
  2. California in general does a bad job of policing workers comp. fraud.  Woe to the employer that actually attempts to question an outrageously suspicious claim.  Last time I tried to do so in CA I got slapped with a lawsuit.
  3. All states do a terrible job policing permanent disability claims.  I hire a lot of older workers.  I can't tell you how many people show up at my door trying to be paid under the table because they don't want to endanger their permanent disability by having a record of getting paid for doing very physical outdoor work for us.  They assure me they are 100% capable to do heavy physical labor.  Since I don't pay anyone off the books, they end up finding work elsewhere.   Many of you may not believe such people exist, but I have met a number of folks who consider getting a permanent disability, or at least something a doctor will testify is a permanent disability, the equivalent of hitting the lotto.  I have even been sued by a woman for submitting testimony to the social security administration that might have harmed her chances of getting a permanent disability ruling.  The lawsuit stated that if she was denied the disability payment after I testified that I had seen no evidence of any limitations in what she could do on the job,  that I should be liable for paying her the lifetime amount she would have gotten.  So I wimped out and withdrew my testimony and let the taxpayers pay her rather than farting around with a lawsuit.

Licensing to Restrict Competition

The WSJ has yet more examples of crazy job licensing, example:  (ht Alex Tabarrok)

But economists—and workers shut out of fields by educational requirements or difficult exams—say licensing mostly serves as a form of protectionism, allowing veterans of the trade to box out competitors who might undercut them on price or offer new services.

"Occupations prefer to be licensed because they can restrict competition and obtain higher wages," said Morris Kleiner, a labor professor at the University of Minnesota. "If you go to any statehouse, you'll see a line of occupations out the door wanting to be licensed."...

Texas, for instance, requires hair-salon "shampoo specialists" to take 150 hours of classes, 100 of them on the "theory and practice" of shampooing, before they can sit for a licensing exam. That consists of a written test and a 45-minute demonstration of skills such as draping the client with a clean cape and evenly distributing conditioner. Glass installers, or glaziers, in Connecticut—the only state that requires such workers to be licensed—take two exams, at $52 apiece, pay $300 in initial fees and $150 annually thereafter.

California requires barbers to study full-time for nearly a year, a curriculum that costs $12,000 at Arthur Borner's Barber College in Los Angeles. Mr. Borner says his graduates earn more than enough to recoup their tuition, though he questions the need for such a lengthy program. "Barbering is not rocket science," he said. "I don't think it takes 1,500 hours to learn. But that's what the state says."

Many, many other examples -- it takes 750 hours of training to be a manicurist in Alabama.  Somehow my daughter learned to paint her own nails during the course of a single sleepover.

Where are the "Defend the Border" Folks When You Really Need Them

Via Valley Fever:

There is an unwanted phenomenon happening in California, and Arizona is being pegged to clean up the mess: Chihuahuas -- lots of them.

California is seeing an influx of chihuahuas popping up at animal shelters and it's becoming too much for the state to handle.

Rather than take these unwanted pooches out back, and deal with them Old Yeller style, California shelters are pawning these rat-dogs off on the Grand Canyon State....

Shelter officials are associating the rise in the abandoned pooches to celebutards like Paris Hilton, who popularized the use of animals as fashion accessories. When the reality of having to care for the dogs kicked in, it proved to be too much for a lot of wanna-be heiresses and they dropped the quivering canines off at animal shelters.

According to California shelter officials, more than 100 of the dogs have been driven to other states, Arizona included, for shelters there to deal with because in most states, abandoned chihuahuas are hard to come by.

Instead of stopping human beings from seeking a better life in the United States, maybe the Minutemen can be convinced to fight a real border threat.

The Single Most Important Law That Tipped the Balance Towards Big Government

My vote:  mandatory income tax withholding.  Taxpayers never see most of the money they pay the Feds.   They don't have the shock of seeing the amount of money going to the government in one big check.  Since most formulas lead to over-withholding, people are actually eager to file their tax returns to get refunded the money that was withheld in excess of liability (e.g. interest-free loan to government).  Employers, who live in fear of violating one of a hundred thousand different labor rules, are more than willing to withhold whatever the government asks - they certainly aren't going to stand in front of the tanks to protect their employees' money.

California is taking this law to the next logical level of abuse:  Increasing the interest-free loan that citizens must give the state.  If free credit markets won't lend you money at a rate you can afford, force your citizens to lend it for free:

Starting Sunday, cash-strapped California will dig deeper into the pocketbooks of wage earners "” holding back 10% more than it already does in state income taxes just as the biggest shopping season of the year kicks into gear.

Technically, it's not a tax increase, even though it may feel like one when your next paycheck arrives. As part of a bundle of budget patches adopted in the summer, the state is taking more money now in withholding, even though workers' annual tax bills won't change.

Think of it as a forced, interest-free loan: You'll be repaid any extra withholding in April. Those who would receive a refund anyway will receive a larger one, and those who owe taxes will owe less.

I am starting to feel a sort of anti-irredentism for California.

I'm Glad I Read This...

I wasn't that familiar with the California Coastal Commission.  I have toyed around with buying some property close to the beach in California to escape Arizona summers.  But once I read this article about their abuses, I have no desire to own California land along the coast.  Because, apparently, you don't actually "own" the land, at least not the way I define it.

The CCC's authority has decidedly grown since its beginnings as a temporary outfit with jurisdiction over 1,000 yards of coastline to an established agency with five miles of nearly absolute power, overriding local decisions and slapping multi-million dollar fines on people building small houses on existing concrete pads that could only be seen from the coast by a Superman with telescopic and X-ray vision.

See, for an example, the story of Kathleen Kenny, one of the stars of Oshen's documentary, now deceased. Kenny beat back local inspectors' assaults on her for building on her own property. She even in 1997 won an unprecedented RICO suit against local government officials for harassing her, a case where she acted as her own lawyer. Despite this, she was never able to shake off the CCC from coming after her for more or less the same offense. It has levied multi-million dollar fines that still hang over the head of her living partner, Arthur Starz.

Indeed, the CCC is still on the march. Even as it's compelling Oshen to kick up his footage, a bill is now being considered in the California state legislature that will give the CCC independent power to levy $5,000-$50,000 "administrative civil penalties" (in addition to any other fines or penalties) for violations of its ukases without having to get a court involved. The agency could then use that money for...more enforcement actions. Another bill would dictate that anyone with an unresolved CCC violation order over their heads could not submit an application for any other development permit from the CCC, on that land or any contiguous land.

A Third of Welfare Recipients in California?

I had trouble believing this chart (ht Maggies Farm) until I looked at the HHS data here and saw it was dead on.  On the chart below, the width of the band at the left is percentage of the US population, and to the right is percentage of the US welfare roles.

graphic1

The second biggest band, in green, I believe is New York.  Its incredible that California's financial problems can be in the news for months and I have never seen a whiff of this in the media.

A Challenge to Defenders of the Regulatory State

To all those who think that corporations are whiny b*tches when complaining about the burden of regulations, I have a challenge -- Go out and obtain an on-sale alcohol license from the state of California.  I dare you.  And no using retired ABC employees as paid consultants, that is cheating.  You have to do it yourself.

It's Not A Tax Problem, It's A Spending Problem

Via Matt Welch, in response to a Paul Krugman editorial lamenting that California's fiscal problems are all due to prop 13.

Here is where the traditional liberal argument loses me. The California budget "emergency" isn't a tax problem, it's a spending problem. State spending in the past two decades, as this Reason Foundation report [PDF] spells out, has increased 5.37 percent a year (and nearly 7 percent for the past decade), compared to a population-plus-inflation growth rate of 4.38 percent. If the budget growth rate had been limited to the population-inflation growth rate, the state would be sitting on a $15 billion surplus right now. Surely enough to dip into during a real emergency. What's more, despite this alleged tax straightjacket, Californians manage to still pay 21.9 percent in state and local taxes, compared to 14.5 percent for Texas.

Government Intrusiveness Fact of the Day

To get a liquor license for my corporation in California, I must tell the state where I was married and on what date(!)  This is about the weirdest thing I have been asked on a form for my corporation.  Of course this is on top of the usual over-the-top list of requirements to get a liquor license which include providing the state with:

  • Fingerprints of owners and officers
  • Name of bank and checking account numbers
  • Name and address of accountant
  • Name and address of attorney
  • For every owner and officer:
    • Spouse's name
    • Home address
    • Home phone number
    • Drivers license number
    • Social Security number
    • Height, weight, eye and hair color
    • Value of home
    • Value of investments
    • Debts and mortgages
    • Net worth and Personal income history (again for each as individuals, not for the corporation).

The entire application, including forms and drawings, requires hours and hours to complete.  As is usually for government forms packages, the same information is requested on multiple forms.  To apply for two licenses requires two entire sets of forms filled out, signed, and notarize separately, despite the fact that 99.9% of the information is the same.  My wife and I have to fill out extensive, totally identical personal affidavits multiple times, despite the fact that the exact same forms with all this information are already on file with the State of California for other liquor licenses the company holds in the state.

The purpose, of course, is twofold:

  • To make sure we are not fronting for Al Capone, a problem that went out of date about 5 minutes after the repeal of prohibition, but still drives licensing requirements 75 years later.
  • To make the process arcane and onerous enough to discourage us from entering the business in California, or, as a minimum, to force us to hire a consultant to help us with the process, the profession of which is 99.9% dominated by ex-California ABC employees.  The harder the process is, the better the prospects for their post-retirement consulting gig.

Propping Up the Las Vegas Home Electronics Market

Regulation in California has generally been good for the relocation-related businesses in Nevada in Arizona.  Now, California is looking to prop up the home electronics retailers in neighboring states:

"To reduce the electrical draw from TVs, the commission has proposed the nation's first mandatory energy limits on televisions -- limits that many large LCD and plasma TVs on the market do not meet.

"'We want to get rid of energy-guzzling televisions,' said Adam Gottlieb, spokesman for the state energy commission.

"The proposed rules would take effect from 2011 to 2013, eventually cutting the use of power by 50 percent.

"But only one-fourth of TVs now sold in the state meet the standard

From the San Francisco Chronicle via Al Tompkins via Overlawyered.

Not the Onion

A reader sent me this, and I was just floored.  The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is asking for legislation to ban black cars in California

The California legislature is considering regulating the color of cars and reflectivity of paint to reduce the energy requirements to cool them. A presentation on the proposed legislation by the California Air Resources Board is below.

The problem isn't the color per se, but the reflectivity of the paint overall. And dark colors just don't reflect well, so they are likely out. "Jet black remains an issue," says the report.

Anyone who's ever entered a very hot car knows that it can be cooled down immediately by driving a few feet with the windows open, effectively neutralizing any color-caused heat issues before engaging the air conditioner. But whatever, black is evil.

Un-freaking-believable.  This is what happens when you satisfy an emissions reduction goal (in this case CO2) via complex command-and-control legislation rather than simpler price mechanisms.   Earlier, I told the story of how California adopted an increasingly sprawling CARB micro-management of their economy to reduce CO2 rather than implementing earlier proposals for a simple carbon tax.

Government Licensing = Incumbent Protection

I have written on this topic quite a bit, but via Cato comes another great example of how licensing and regulation, while promoted as consumer protections, much more frequently are incumbent protection against new competitors.  Cato has a video of some folks in Oregon who started a moving business, only to find that sate law effectively requires them to get permission of current moving companies before they can operate  (apparently, someone in Oregon is enamored of medieval guild systems).

How the law works is that when a new mover submits his application for a business license, existing movers can file an objection (which apparently is pro forma).  The new company must then justify to the state why another moving company is justified by the marketplace.  Of course, absolutely no guidance is given how such a thing might be proven.

I would have found this unbelievable, had not my company faced the exact same requirement in another context.  In Shasta County, California, we wanted a liquor license to sell beer at the store we run at McArthur-Burney Falls State Park.  We were told that we could not have a license until we had proven to the County that there was enough demand for another liquor outlet.  It was for our protection, they told me -- we wouldn't want you to get in a situation where you might fail.

I have written about liquor licensing before - if ever there was a regulatory regime whose time was long past, this is it.  The extensive fingerprinting and background checks one must go through to get a license are outdated remnants of a concern for the return of organized crime, a problem that was obviated by legalization  (so that, as usual, the government regulatory regime to fix a problem was instituted at the same moment the problem went away).  Now, the liquor licensing process is used as a club by existing competitors to keep new entrants out.  My bet is that organized crime is now on the other side of the fence, using the liquor licensing process to hammer honest competitors.  And if you really want to see abuse, read the whole Rack 'N Roll saga by Radley Balko.

I bet you are just overcome with suspense wondering if we got our license.  In Shasta County, we eventually succeeded, mainly because the store was in a gated park with an entrance fee, and we could make the argument that competition did not really cross the gates of the park.  Years later, we lost a similar battle in Lake Havasu City, AZ, where a group of local business people have really organized the town to their benefit and use every tool they can, from zoning to licensing, to keep competitors out.

The Other Reason Stimulus Won't Work

Frequent readers will know that I do not buy into the Keynesian multiplier effect for government spending.  But there is an even better reason why the stimulus bill will never work:   it is simply impossible to break ground on any new government construction project in less than a year.

A year from now, any truly new incremental project in the stimulus bill will still be sitting on some planners desk with unfinished environmental impact assessments, the subject of arguments between multiple government agencies, tied up in court with environmental or NIMBY challenges, snarled in zoning fights, subject to conflicts between state, county, and city governments, or all of the above.  Most of the money will have been spent by planners, bureaucrats, and lawyers, with little to show for in actual facilities.

The couple of exceptions I can think of are:

  • The project has already been proceeding for years, and thus is just about to start construction anyway.  Which implies the spending is not incremental and that we are just substituting federal dollars for local dollars in completing local projects, never a good idea.
  • It may be possible to get a repair project going faster, but even that is probably impossible.  The contract award process alone can take up to 6 months, and it is probably no accident that federal highway funds are one of the few areas the government budgets multi-year.

To illustrate, let me tell a story.  We operate a marina and campground on a lake in Ventura County, California.  The marina office and store used to be a small floating building attached to the dock and floating on the lake (this is a fairly typical arrangement in small marinas).  The County decided it, for whatever reason, did not like having a floating store building any more, and it wanted the floating building closed and a new modular building put in a corner of the parking lot, on dry land.

So we get a modular building and park it in the parking lot near the dock entrance, as ordered.  Having been required by the county to take these steps, we were subsequently shocked to find that a variety of County offices refused to permit the new structure.  Eventually, it took nearly 4 months and $10,000 in fees to obtain the 8 County permits and approvals we needed to park a trailer in the parking lot.   And this does not include the cost of a fairly senior manager spending half his time chasing down all these approvals.  At one point, the County demanded a soil sample, and so we had to have a company come out and saw into the concrete parking lot to obtain a sample of the soil underneath.  God knows how long it would take to approve new construction on virgin land with water, sewer, etc.

Finally, some of you might be thinking that these government hurdles would be easier for the government itself to clear.  Wrong.  You have never, ever seen a government employee display as much energy as they will muster when they think another government agency is bypassing his or her authority.  I made a presentation a while back to a group of county commissioners in California, and it seems like most of their jobs involve dueling with various state agencies and local governments.

Letter to Schwarzenegger on Unemployment Insurance

A letter I am drafting currently.  If you don't know how unemployment taxes work, see here.

Governor Schwarzenegger:

As a business operating in California as well as twelve other states, I have the ability to compare the regulatory and business climate across states.  And while I could discuss many issues with the state of California regulatory affairs, I will focus on just one in this letter:  administration of the state unemployment insurance program.

All the states have an unemployment insurance program with roughly similar rules.  The fund will pay workers some percentage of their past earnings if they are terminated for reasons other than with cause from their last employer and are actively seeking new employment.  Employers are typically charged an insurance rate as a percentage of wages that is based on past unemployment claims by ex-employees of that company.

Before I provide my observations on the problems in the California system, let me provide some data that helps indicate that California is indeed unique.  Here are our unemployment insurance rates by state  (we have roughly the same business profile in each state, though if anything our business is less seasonal in California so one might expect, all things being equal, that our rates in California would be lower than average)

New Mexico:  0.03%

Texas:  1.06%

Florida:  1.02%

Arizona:  3.30 %

Michigan:  1.5%

Colorado:  0.9%

Wisconsin:  0.25%

Minnesota: 0.40%

California:  6.2% + 1.1% disability adder

You can see that our rates in California are double that of any other state, and more than 6 times our average.  Further, the California rate could actually be higher by our experience, as 6.2% is the cap.  By the way, we did a study a while back as to why our Arizona rates were so high.  It turned out most of the claims were from people who had recently moved from California, and grew up under the California system.

In interacting with the California state unemployment system for a number of years, our company has observed two issues that raise costs:

  1. It is virtually impossible to convince unemployment office workers that an employee was fired for cause.  It is very clear they see their mission as making everyone eligible, and thus even a guilty plea of outright theft has not been enough to have the state unemployment office agree that a firing was "for cause."
  2. The state unemployment office does absolutely nothing to ensure that a worker collecting unemployment is actively seeking work, as is required by legislation.  We run a seasonal business, and our workers have told me the unemployment office tells them that it is perfectly fine to work 6 months and take the other 6 months off on unemployment.  I have had employees vacationing in Mexico for 6 months still collecting unemployment.  When I reported this fact to the state unemployment office and said that these workers obviously could not be actively seeking work in California, I was told by the workers comp. customer service staff that if I made such a claim, and did not succeed in proving it, I was subject to fines and even incarceration for making a false charge.  Of course, I dropped it.

No matter what the text of the legislation says or what you are told by the managers of the system, the front-line employees who make the decisions that drive costs see it as their job to ensure maximum payout to any individual, regardless of whether they are honestly looking for work or not.  I have, just as a test, asked trusted employees to call the unemployment office to ask about benefits.  They were told that they didn't really have to be looking for work, that no one would check, and that all they had to do was call in and say they were looking for work and they would get paid.  Your unemployment office was practically begging them to take as much money as they could.

A Voice For Businesses in California

California is one of the toughest states in the country to do business in.  Bill Leonard, a member of the California BOE*, takes a refreshingly free market approach for a left-coast politician.  From looking at his site, he and I may not see eye-to-eye on immigration, but he has been a lone voice of sanity on tax and regulatory policy in California for several years.  If you are interested, his email newsletter is generally filled with news and commentary on how California tax and regulatory law is changing and how these changes may affect local businesses.  You can sign up for his newsletter here.

*  You know your state is in trouble when the department of taxation and revenue calls itself the "Board of Equalization", though I am told this originally referred to equalization of tax policy across counties rather than having the redistributive overtones it has today.