California Editorial Rdp

July 5

The Fresno Bee on congressmen needing to support bill that aids fighting wildfires

Wildfires are deadly, devastating and putting them out burns through cash faster than a stand of dry pine. When they're raging, it calls for an all-out effort to bring them under control. And that includes from our representatives in Congress.

There is legislation in Congress that would help the U.S. Forest Service fight these devastating natural disasters both as active fires and by providing funds to make them less devastating. It is embraced by Democrats and Republicans alike (in an all-too-rare moment of bipartisanship). The co-sponsors include 16 Californians, but two who should support it aren't. We want to know why.

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The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, HR 2862, by Reps. Michael Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., addresses something called "fire borrowing," a wrong-headed concept that bases the budget for fighting fires on the 10-year wildfire cost. When that cost is exceeded as it almost always is Forest Service funds designated for prevention, such as clearing brush, are "borrowed" to pay for putting out the fires. The preventative measures are then ignored.

Without clearing brush, forests become unnaturally overgrown creating a tinderbox ready to explode into even more ferocious flames.

Congressional analysts say in 2016, wildfire "containment costs" consumed 56 percent of the Forest Service budget up from 16 percent in 1995. Knowing a warming planet creates more flammable forests, expect that number to reach 70 percent by 2025.

Failing to address the "borrowing' issue is self-defeating. Without prevention, the costs of fighting fire become far, far higher not to mention greater damage to private property and loss of life.

Last year, the Soberanes Fire raged across Big Sur for 82 days and cost $236 million just to extinguish. It helped turn 2016 into the worst year ever for forest fires. We can never forget the Rim Fire in 2013, which consumed 257,000 acres and cost $127 million to put out. Or the Butte Fire, which destroyed 550 homes and had total losses and costs of $2 billion.

This is not the first time Congress has tried to pass this bill. Versions in 2015 and 2016 stalled despite support. The latest iteration has 61 co-sponsors, including 16 Californians, among them Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale; Jim Costa, D-Fresno; Steve Knight, R-Palmdale, and John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove. Sen. Dianne Feinstein is supportive; Kamala Harris should get engaged, too. Environmentalist organizations, forestry groups and much of the recreation industry want it passed.

With President Donald Trump proposing to cut $1 billion from the Forest Service budget, this legislation is utterly essential.

So what is keeping Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, from attaching his name to the bill? After all, many of his constituents are called upon to fight these fires; others have family or property living in the nearby mountains that is certain to burn. He should be front and center.

Rep. Tom McClintock, on the other hand, is committing political malpractice. He represents the fire-prone Sierra and has co-sponsored the bill in the past. But this year he's got his own alternative, the Resilient Federal Forest Act. which has gained little traction and a lot of opposition from environmentalists, who believe it will lead to more logging with less oversight.

The cost of fighting forest fires is already too great in money, property and lives. We need to make sure firefighters have what's needed to fight them. Must we light a fire beneath McClintock and Denham to force their support for HR 2862?

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July 4

Santa Cruz Sentinel on lack of bid competition potentially costing state

Two state agencies tasked with overseeing state procurement contracts have failed to provide adequate oversight, a new State Auditor's Office report has found.

The Department of General Services and the California Department of Technology are charged with managing the state government's contracts for goods and services, with the latter overseeing large information technology contracts. But they have not lived up to their end of the bargain, according to State Auditor Elaine Howle's office, resulting in a number of large contracts that were awarded without undergoing the required competitive bidding process.

The state spent $44 billion on noncompetitive contracts worth at least $1 million between fiscal years 2011-12 and 2015-16. "Of the 27 approved noncompetitive requests we reviewed, nine lacked justification for bypassing the competitive bid process, and 14 did not demonstrate that the vendor's prices were reasonable," the report concluded

There seems to be a loophole in the contract management process, as contracts may initially be awarded on a competitive basis, but then later enhanced and extended sometimes significantly through a noncompetitive "amendment" process. The two oversight agencies routinely approved these requests, oftentimes improperly.

"Although both General Services and Technology have enforcement mechanisms, they rarely employed them, allowing agencies to continue inappropriately using noncompetitive requests," the report claimed.

The auditor also chided agencies for their poor planning in making those requests. The Employment Development Department, for example, used four amendments to increase a contract for the processing of unemployment insurance payments from an original cost of $600,000 to $10 million.

"The sheer magnitude of the value of the state's noncompetitive contracts during this period emphasizes the importance of ensuring that the state provides adequate oversight of agencies' contracting practices," the auditor asserted.

The auditor also cited substantial inaccurate and missing contract data due to data entry errors. The state's new budgeting, accounting and procurement system, known as the Financial Information System for California, or FI$Cal, may help to reduce these errors. (General Services just switched over to the system last year.) The new system has its own shortcomings, however, as it does not currently allow agencies to indicate whether procurements were made using amendments.

As with other large state IT projects, FI$Cal has had financial issues of its own, too. The project, in development since 2005, has seen its full implementation pushed back to 2019 or 2020, and its cost estimates have ballooned to a total of $900 million to $1 billion.

"(E)conomic experts agree that competition in public procurement benefits taxpayers and consumers by providing lower prices, greater innovation and improved products and services," the state auditor wisely counseled. But contracts are only as good as their structure and oversight. Eliminating competition eviscerates incentives to improve efficiency, save taxpayer dollars and prevent cronyism. Therein lies an important lesson not only for procurement, but for the provision of other government services as well.

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July 3

San Francisco Chronicle on Trump, NRA videos inciting violence

Incitement of violence is never acceptable. It is especially appalling when delivered by the president of the United States.

President Trump's weekend tweet that depicted a beat-down of a figure with a CNN logo superimposed over the head of the "victim" was yet another example of both his utter tastelessness and his disdain for an independent news media. It's all the more disturbing in light of the way he whipped up crowds against the press corps and protesters during the campaign, leading to a distinct aura of danger at rallies.

The 28-second clip was adapted from a 2007 WrestleMania stunt in which a suited Trump tackled and pummeled WWE chief Vince McMahon. Trump embroidered his tweet with the hashtags #FraudNewsCNN and #FNN. It had not a whit of wit.

It did, however, bring to mind the recent real-life body slam of a Guardian reporter by Montana congressional candidate Greg Gianforte, a Republican. In politics, unlike pro wrestling, violence is neither funny nor fake.

Also crossing the line was a new National Rifle Association recruitment video that casts the threat to American freedom from liberals in an ominous tone reminiscent of a wartime propaganda campaign. In words and images from protests, it presents "them" as an evil force: "They use their media to assassinate real news," the narrator intones, darkly. "They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again."

Narrator Dana Loesch ends by imploring that the only way to save the nation is to "fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth."

Defenders of the Trump tweet or the NRA video would point to over-the-top rhetoric by a some celebrities and politicians on the left. Yes, there have been regrettable examples of excess on both sides.

But the leader of the free world, and an organization with 5 million members, should not be inflaming an atmosphere that is growing increasingly toxic and fraught with the specter of violence.

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July 1

Los Angeles Times on need for California to address local pollution

Last year California lawmakers doubled down on the state's landmark law to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The passage of Senate Bill 32 obligated the state to reduce emissions 40 percent below the 1990 level by 2030. It is an ambitious target that has, again, made California one of the world leaders in fighting climate change.

This year lawmakers are haggling over the details: Specifically, how will California meet the new, more aggressive timeline?

Gov. Jerry Brown has been pushing them to extend the state's existing "cap-and-trade" program for carbon emissions, which could otherwise expire in 2020. State leaders picked cap and trade over other options, such as imposing a carbon tax on emitters, because they wanted a market-based system that would incentivize companies to cut emissions while also giving them flexibility as to how they meet the state mandate.

Under cap and trade, companies can install pollution-cutting equipment in their facilities to meet carbon emissions limits, or they can buy permits to exceed them. (The state auctions off a limited number of permits, and others are available from companies that cut their emissions more than required.) They can also offset their excess emissions by paying for greenhouse gas reductions elsewhere in the U.S. for example, by preserving a forest in Michigan. Because climate change is a global problem, it doesn't matter where you cut emissions so long as you reduce greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

It's often significantly cheaper for companies to buy permits or pay for projects outside California than to install pollution-cutting equipment, which is why industry groups are lobbying hard to preserve the cap and trade program. Some lawmakers and environmental groups also like cap and trade because it helps keep down the costs of compliance, meaning fewer price increases for consumers and less risk of companies and jobs fleeing to other states. That's important because too few states have followed California's leadership on climate change.

But some other environmental groups and lawmakers want to end cap-and-trade, or at least significantly overhaul it so that companies have to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in California. Their eyes are on a different prize: When a refinery or power plant installs equipment to cut greenhouse gases, it also reduces smog, soot and toxic air contaminants that have a very real local impact on public health.

Because major emitters in California have the flexibility under cap and trade to buy carbon reductions, they can often avoid upgrading their own facilities. Researchers from UC Berkeley and the University of Southern California released a study last year that found in-state greenhouse gas emissions increased on average for several industry sectors regulated under the cap-and-trade program. And the highest-emitting facilities are more likely to be located in low-income and minority communities. So even though California's law is bringing down overall greenhouse gas emissions around the world, it may nevertheless be allowing for increased pollution here in the state.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) offered a bill this session that would have, for the first time, required facilities to clean up their smog, soot and toxic pollution before they could get some of the perks and flexibility of the cap-and-trade program. Her bill died amid heavy lobbying from the oil industry, but she and a coalition of Democratic lawmakers have demanded that the cap and trade extension deal also address local air pollution. They're right.

Brown and the California Air Resources Board have been so focused on leading the world on climate change that they've neglected pollution in their own backyard. Communities like those represented by Garcia still live with unhealthful levels of pollution from industrial sites, diesel trucks and trains.

To his credit, the governor appears to get it. He toured the polluted neighborhoods in Garcia's district and listened to activists' concerns that he had focused on climate change to the exclusion of local pollution problems. His top aide Nancy McFadden acknowledged that the state is not doing enough on air quality issues and said the governor would develop a separate plan to address the most polluted communities. That's a start, but any plan should include real goals, deadlines and enforcement to make sure the state's disadvantaged communities aren't forgotten again in the fight against global climate change.

Ultimately, lawmakers should extend cap and trade with reforms to ensure it will deliver the needed emissions reductions going forward. So far the program has worked fairly well in its primary goal: to cut global greenhouse gases without slowing economic growth. It's also worth remembering that cap and trade is just one piece of the state's plan to meet the aggressive 2030 targets; others include requiring utilities to provide half of their electricity from renewable sources and mandating that public transit agencies buy zero-emissions buses.

California can continue its world leadership on climate change, but state leaders can't leave suffering communities behind.

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June 30

Times-Standard on single-payer health care system

bill /bil/ (noun) 1. an amount of money owed for goods supplied or services rendered, set out in a printed or written statement of charges. 2. a draft of a proposed law ... .

What can be made of the Healthy California Act, a bill advanced by the state Senate earlier this month that dared to dream a single-payer health care system for the great state of California?

Not much, when legislators fail to include any funding mechanism.

Senate Bill 562, the legislative equivalent of attempting to sell the public an engineless car, was rightfully put up on blocks last week by Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon.

If it had passed, the bill would have guaranteed health care for all California residents and eliminated out-ofpocket costs for consumers. It also would have cost California an estimated $400 billion a year and required up to $100 billion in new taxes, according to the Associated Press.

"SB 562 was sent to the Assembly woefully incomplete," Rendon said. "Even senators who voted for SB 562 noted there are potentially fatal flaws in the bill, including the fact it does not address many serious issues, such as financing, delivery of care, cost controls, or the realities of needed action by the Trump administration and voters to make SB 562 a genuine piece of legislation."

For their acknowledgment that hopes and dreams alone won't be enough to reform health care in the Golden State, Rendon and other legislators who came out against SB 562 including North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood, chairman of the Assembly Health Committee have incurred the wrath of single-payer advocates.

Because health care is a life or death issue, we understand the intensity of the debate. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good, we're often told.

But SB 562 isn't merely imperfect as Rendon said, it's incomplete. Its proponents including co-author North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire would be better served by working to fill in its gaping blanks.

If the only opponents of single-payer plans are truly bought and paid for minions of the Greedy, No-Good Health Care Industry, single-payer champions might as well do the hard work of delivering an actual proposal, depriving their opponents of such an easy out. Failing to include a funding mechanism in proposed health care legislation isn't just putting the proverbial cart before the horse. There is no horse there. SB 562 didn't bother.

Whether you're for or against single-payer health care, we all deserve better legislation to argue over than this.