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Saturday, July 28, 2012

Where Was Mandy-Rice Davies?

We are indebted to the organizers of the 2012 Olympic Games for their generous and somewhat informative opening presentation Friday in London. It was nothing less than an attempt, sanitized though it was, to present a rough history of Great Britain. While it most definitely tried to put a happy face on the long and complicated story of the rise of the Anglo-Saxons and the ensuing glories of the former British Empire, there was a lot missing. Certain, shall we say "unpleasant", details were not to be found. For instance, some of us longed for at least a brief smidgen of coverage of the War of 1812, the Sepoy Mutiny in India , the Irish Potato Famine, the Boer War and the naughty behavior of the lusty Mandy Rice-Davies way back in the sleazy 1960s. Surely, some bit of production time could have been found for a depiction of the impressment of American sailors on the high seas, late afternoon gin and tonics during the era of the Raj and a peek at Winston Churchill's vast supply of transported whiskey as he participated in the late, lamented 19th century conflict in South Africa, among other vignettes. But no, it was not to be. It was one more example of a missed moment. Frankly, the Parade of Peasants and the array of soot-stained iron workers from the Industrial Revolution, while curiously revealing in a strange way, were, in the end, tedious. How unfortunate. It was a lost opportunity. But, thank you, NBC and BBC for giving us all a chance to view it anyway. Nothing is perfect. Especially those dancing national health care nurses and the latter-day, cellphone-deprived Romeo and Juliet. Good lord. Who's idea were they?                

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Let's Ask the Citizenry for More Money

The synergy was too stark to ignore. One day after the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury warned that the county's public employee pension and retiree health insurance benefits were too rich and should be trimmed back to a more reasonable level, the Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted, 4-1, to ask the voters to increase the county sales tax by a half-cent in November. Dave Pine voted against the proposal. He was the sole negative voice on the board. He preferred to go for a quarter-cent hike in tough times. While the board majority spoke earnestly of the public programs in need of a cash infusion from the taxpayers, they tended to avoid the obvious: The worrisome analysis provided by the Civil Grand Jury the day before. In essence, then, what the board majority wants to do is to secure fresh funding from the taxpayers to support, in part, those impressive pensions and retiree health insurance packages that are draining money away from ongoing public welfare programs and other county efforts. It's a subject few board members want to discuss at a time of stressed budgets and ongoing deficits. The election will be held in just over three short months. There will be a blizzard of proposed tax increases on the ballot. Lots of luck.   

Monday, July 23, 2012

Local Tax Measures May Be in Jeopardy

With each passing week, there are indications that public entities in San Mateo County are leaning toward placing tax measures on the upcoming November ballot. That may be a mistake. The timing is not good. That's because of increasing evidence of unhappiness with California's governor and Legislature regarding the state's financial condition and their desire to raise taxes with November ballot measures. Support for those taxes appears to be minimal at best. Will those requested state levies pull down local tax hikes with them? That's the fear. Public school districts much prefer to ask voters to back construction bond measures in a general election. That's because approval needs to meet only a 55 percent threshold, rather than a two-thirds requirement. Still, the November election looks to be decidedly problematic.     

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Unfortunate Mixed Message in Sacramento

The governor and a strong Democrat majority in the California state Legislature are rolling the dice. They want the voters to approve higher taxes at the November election. At the same time, they have not dealt effectively with meaningful public employee pension reform and they have given the green light to the expenditure of billions of dollars of bond funds on a highly dubious high-speed rail plan which has been panned by every objective analytical body out there. Their own experts had urged that the tenuous fast-train proposal be shelved, at least for now. But, no. They went ahead anyway. The politicians on the Democrat side of the Sacramento aisle are risking another budgetary calamity with their perplexing behavior. If the new taxes are shot down in four months, draconian cuts, especially in public education, are expected to be forthcoming. The hand-wringing and wailing on the left will be palpable. But they can't say they haven't been warned.     

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Portola Valley District Chimes in

In a previous post (an important addendum to a column published in the San Jose Mercury News/San Mateo County Times), 2010-11 salary figures for every public school district in San Mateo County were provided for the sake of comparison. One district was missing. The Portola Valley Elementary School District did not supply those numbers to the state's Department of Education. This week, a district spokeswoman pointed out that new 2012-13 wage statistics are available on its Web site. So, although it's not quite apples and apples due to the difference in fiscal years involved, here are some relevant data from that tiny, two-school South County entity: Lowest possible salary, $52,844; highest possible salary, $108,215. The average wage was not shown.  

Sunday, July 1, 2012

High-Speed Rail Takes a House Hit

Federal funds for California's high-speed rail plan in the coming fiscal year were knocked out of a House of Representatives' spending plan last week. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Republican-dominated House took the action as the Members considered a transportation bill. The GOP has been extremely skeptical of the fast train proposal due to highly worrisome financial projections provided by a number of outside analysts who have warned that HSR in California would be budgetary folly. On the Peninsula, Caltrain authorities have been lobbying hard to grab close to $1 billion in HSR monies in order to electrify the commuter rail line. Whether such a move would be legal remains to be seen, however. As for the latest House vote, the next step in the process will come in the Senate which has a slim Democrat majority. Stay tuned.