It was good to be back on the radio with Martha Montelongo of Gadfly Radio. Go here if you want to hear the podcast. That link should be good until Tuesday morning. For fans of my 2009-2011 show on KOGO 600 AM in San Diego, I have some news. I will have a weeknight show on the U-T TV cable channel in San Diego, probably an hour long, probably debuting in early summer. More info TK.
The idea that unions are a bad influence on California is hardly just a conclusion of folks on the right. In 2005, the Los Angeles Times endorsed Prop. 75, saying barring the automatic deduction of union dues from public employees' pay would lead to a fairer balance of power at the local and state government level. The Sacramento Bee editorial page has gone after unions for being unreasonable for years; here's a recent example. Unions are so out of control that it barely raises eyebrows when union officials and allies like state Dem Party leader John Burton advocate a policy that would prevent giving anti-convulsion drugs to kids at risk of death if the person doing the giving isn't a union nurse. But guess who completely absolves unions? The Calbuzz boys, whose writing style/shtick builds off the idea that they're smarter than everybody, and the L.A. Times' George Skelton, dean of Sacramento journos. Really, guys? Not a single mention of unions in your recent dissections of California's dysfunction? Not one? Wow. Skelton's myopia is his norm. I groaned when I read the following but was hardly surprised. The real blame rests with the recession, an outdated roller-coaster tax system, the two-thirds legislative vote requirement for tax increases, an outmoded Proposition 13 property tax system that has shifted power and responsibility from local governments to Sacramento, legislative term limits that stunt lawmakers' growth — and political polarization. Same old Shelton. But remember that Phil Trounstine and Jerry Roberts, the Calbuzzers, write as if they alone understand California yet are otherwise surrounded by idiots and knaves. So how on Earth is it possible that they could write 930 words on the state's screwed-up budget and never mention the word "union"? Now I understand the theory that Proposition 13 is the root of all evil. I understand the theory that the lack of an oil extraction tax seems unfair given how other states deal with the same issue. But, holy bleep, to look at all of California's problems and boil it down to GOP opposition to higher taxes? Really? Like Reagan, Brown is at heart a traditionalist, embracing the old-school belief that politics is the art of the possible, fueled by negotiations in the service of finding agreement. That is why Brown keeps expecting Republicans to want to negotiate for things they want in exchange for things he wants. But the vast majority of the GOP minority doesn’t want to negotiate, because they don’t want an agreement. Brown’s focused and patient efforts to craft a budget deal belie the decades-old rap on him as too heedless and flaky for the painstakingly hard work of governing. He can only hope, however, that amid all the posing, grandstanding and strutting in the Republican caucus, there are at least a couple of grown-ups with the backbone to stand up and help him do the job. Given what happened to Nathan Fletcher's smart tax deal with Jerry Brown last fall, I understand gripes about GOP obstinance. But when one side has so much more power than the other side, it's simply bizarre to absolve the strongest supporters of the side with the great majority of power of any responsibility for the state's problems. It takes amazing tunnel vision to write 930 words about why California is screwed up and not mention unions. It takes amazing chutzpah to do this in a column in which the Calbuzzers mock other journos for their takes on the Golden State. What do they ignore? Lots of things. When times are bad, unions pressure Democrats to always make social services for the poor be the first target of budget cutting, preserving public employee compensation by any means possible. When times are good, they pressure Democrats to save extra revenue for them. In the revenue boom that lasted from 2003-2007, social services spending went up by barely the rate of inflation, while spending on schools (teacher unions) and prisons (guard unions) went up at least four times as fast. Unions have blocked teacher tenure reform and any policies that pursue teacher accountability. Unions have rigged CalPERS and CalSTRS into fighting for a crazy status quo by controlling their boards and used their clout in the Legislature to block pension reform. They've passed one state law to make it more difficult for local governments to declare bankruptcy, so as to preserve public employee compensation, and they're pursuing another law to make it even harder. They oppose letting volunteers clean up parks. They require leaders of the Legislature to block significant bills helping the economy because then they can use those bills as political chits to win concessions related to, you guessed it, protect public employee jobs and compensation. In south Los Angeles, when Latino parents wanted a charter school, someone left leaflets warning that their organizing meeting would be raided by agents looking for illegal immigrants. UTLA members are the only logical suspects. Against this backdrop, it's nutty that anyone can go 20 words without citing unions as part of the state's dysfunction, much less full essays. At least when Skelton ignores the T. Rex in the room, he doesn't do so while patting himself on the back. In their essay, Roberts' and Trounstine's self-regard rings through: The only thing worse was reading the inane Back East commentary, written by the usual assortment of Romney-sniffing blowhards, ill-informed thumbsuckers and right-wing mantra-chanters whose knowledge and understanding of California politics seems proscribed by the collected rantings of Flashreport freelancers and the world’s shortest book, viz. The Wit and Wisdom of Jon Coupal. OK, OK, it's clear, Calbuzzers, you think the pundits on the right are nitwits. But how can it not be crystal-clear, Jerry and Phil, that when you write 930 words of analysis on California's woes without mentioning unions, you are yourselves guilty of the same partisan hackery and hucksterism you see on the right? I will leave the closing argument to the L.A. Times, and the paper's Oct. 16, 2005, editorial: At many levels of government, public employee unions, aided by their political war chests, have gained control over both sides of the negotiating process. When public employee unions wield the type of influence they now do in California, too much governing becomes an exercise in self-dealing. I look forward to a sarcastic, name-calling screed against the L.A. Times from the Calbuzz guys. Not.
"The Escape Artists," the new book about the Obama administration's economic policy-making, has an amazing story about who's responsible for the decision to dump tens of billions of dollars in federal stimulus money into bullet-train debacles. One Chris Reed, writing at Cal Watchdog, has all the details. The key passage from "Escape Artists" is here: In December , the economic team dutifully prepared a list of drab but high-bang-for-your-buck outlays to [Rahm] Emanuel. The list included … $20 billion to repair existing roads and bridges, $5 billion to repair public housing units and another $5 billion to upgrade sewage treatment facilities. … Emanuel’s brother, Ezekiel, a doctor who was joining the administration as a health care adviser, happened to be staying with the future chief of staff when the list arrived via fax. “There’s nothing that really gets my heart racing,” the brother later complained. “What would get your heart racing?” Rahm Emanuel asked glumly. “I don’t know. How about high-speed rail -- getting from New York to D.C. in 90 minutes?” Within days, some $20 billion in high-speed rail investments had immaculately materialized on the list. Are you kidding me? The Obama administration’s obsession with high-speed rail began as a way to get Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel’s heart racing? This is at the root of the president’s determination to trick/bully California and other states into building immense boondoggles by providing them initial billions until the projects became too big to fail? I feel ill. Also check out One Chris Reed's article for an amazing story from "Escape Artists" about green jobs. Obama knew you couldn't build an economic recovery on them, but he went ahead and lied about it anyways.
Here we go again. As frenzied as the tax-hike obsessives have been in recent months and years, Jerry Brown's weekend warning that the 2012-13 budget is $16 billion short is sure to ramp up their intensity. So get ready for the media/Dem onslaught, folks, and prepare to be reviled. Will Jerry Brown get lots of blame for his $4-billion-in-extra-revenue fantasy that he concocted last June? It's made a dire situation much worse. Will anyone in the media point out that contracts with gov unions that Jerry approved this fiscal year not only continue providing "step" increases for time on the job -- in other words, just for showing up -- but overall pay hikes? Will anyone in the media point out that the people with power in this state have blocked all fundamental reforms -- except the one (prisoner "realignment") that allowed them to shift costs to local governments? No, no and no. Instead, we'll see the usual one-two punch to explain all that is wrong with California. 1. Those damn Republicans who oppose tax hikes are to blame. No. They're. Not. For all the alleged insurmountable obstacles to raising taxes in California, the state has among the nation's highest income, sales and gasoline taxes; and the highest corporate taxes in the West. Property taxes are about average, thanks to Prop. 13. We should be able to live within our means. Most other states can pull this off. Which brings us to the next refrain in the Dem/media litany... 2. Prop. 13 is to blame. It ruined the state. No. It. Didn't. The limit on the annual increases has not prevented property tax revenue from going up by more than population growth and inflation for more than 30 years. Yes, the state may have a screwed-up tax structure. But that's not Prop. 13's fault. That's the fault of the status quoists in Sacramento who like things as they are, no matter what, just with more money from taxpayers. And the incredible thing about Prop. 13 is that it just showed its utility all over again during the housing bubble. Home prices in some markets nearly tripled from 1998 to 2006. Imagine the disruption in the lives of retirees and those living on fixed incomes if their property taxes had gone up that fast. Yet I think I'm the only guy in the California print media who has ever mentioned this. That's incredible, when you think about what that says about media conformity -- and stupidity. How is it not news that Prop. 13 saved millions of people from disaster? Because it doesn't fit the narrative. A more honest narrative might occasionally, yunno, note that the revenue crisis could be alleviated with economic growth, but that the Legislature and the governor only care about the sliver of the private sector economy that includes "green" jobs. A more honest narrative might also note that for the eighth year in a row, the nation's CEOs have rated California as the most business-hostile state. But those narratives will give way to the usual media-Dem juggernaut. Everything can be made right in California with higher taxes, and people who don't support higher taxes are greedy "terrorists." This is one case where I'm rooting for the "terrorists" -- my fellow "terrorists." Tom McClintock saw all this coming in September 2008 in his final major speech to the Legislature: According to the State Controller's reports, last year, our tax structure produced $96 billion in actual revenues - a record year. We budgeted $103 billion and spent $107 billion. In short, our spending exceeded our revenue by $11 billion and exceeded our adopted budget by $4 billion. This year, if the economy gets no worse, we can expect to produce $97 billion in tax revenues. Claims that the revenues will be higher are based on accounting gimmicks that mask the numbers but do not change the underlying reality. .... So I leave the Senate with this warning. I believe that last year's budget pushed this state beyond a fiscal tipping point. The unsustainable growth of spending pushed us beyond a point where neither tax increases nor conventional line item reductions can bring us into balance. ... I believe we have now also passed the point where conventional budget reductions can restore our state's finances. I believe we have now reached the terminal stage of a bureaucratic state where our bureaucracies have become so large and so tangled that they can no longer perform basic functions. "The terminal stage" has been unfolding ever since. What happens to California? It changes in sweeping, fundamental, unprecedented ways. Or it collapses.
From 2001-2009, many people on the left and more than a few on the right and in libertarian circles warmed to the argument that one reason George W. Bush was such a disappointing president was because he lived in a bubble, surrounded by yes men. When is the rest of California going to figure out that almost all of Sacramento is in a bubble? Exit polls after the May 19, 2009, special election showed Dems, Republicans and independents alike hated the higher taxes pushed by the Sacramento media-political establishment. Yet inside the Sacramento bubble, the columnist for the most influential newspaper writes that it is "hard to find anyone" who doesn’t think tax hikes should now be shoved down voters’ throats. And the governor whose own tax hike power play would callously put schools at risk unless income and sales taxes are increased by a November ballot measure goes on national TV to suggest that only Republican "cult" members are opposed. Yo, George Skelton! Yo, Jerry Brown! Who says the public is on your side? Dan Walters frequently makes the point that this depiction of Republicans as being the solo villains of Sacramento doesn't reflect reality. Despite all my whining about them, the Sacramento Bee and L.A. Times editorial pages will occasionally make the point that union power is what makes Sacramento dysfunctional, not GOP lawmakers' opposition to higher taxes. But too many of the beat writers who cover the Legislature often implicitly accept the Brown/Skelton narrative that there is something wrong/unusual/despicable about those who refuse to back higher taxes to sustain a local and state government status quo that isn't working. I have yet to talk to a management consultant or efficiency expert who doesn't ridicule California's public employee compensation practices as divorced from the real world, or who wonders why the state whose information-technology innovations fueled the productivity revolution can't bring those innovations to the public sector. And it's not just libertarian cranks who say it's insane to base teacher pay on years on the job and meaningless graduate school course work. It's Barack Obama. But very little critical thinking is the norm in the beat writers' stories about the narratives offered by those in power in Sacramento. Consider the reaction from the beat writers back in the summer of 2009 to the rhetoric coming from lawmakers and union supporters who were furious that they couldn't get Republican lawmakers to go along with tax hikes even though California voters of all stripes had rejected them in the May 19 special election that year. This is from my blog on July 19, 2009: Tax-hike foes: First they were terrorists. Then racists. Now Nazis. Even by Sacramento standards, the political establishment's reaction to the backlash against its latest push for tax hikes is increasingly unhinged. First there was Assembly Speaker Karen Bass likening her loudest critics to terrorists. Then there was Bass and her staff in a bizarre miniflap in which they appeared to hint that an aide to our newly tax-averse governor might be a racist. Why? Because he used the word "boycott" in describing the decision of Bass, who is African-American, to skip a Big 5 meeting on the budget. "Staying off buses in Montgomery to bring down Jim Crow is a boycott. Missing a photo op to prop up Arnold Schwarzenegger is not," her spokeswoman said. Now, as Reason blogger Tim Cavanaugh notes, Bass' biggest backer, the California Teachers Association, is weighing in. The CTA's new ad denouncing the governor invokes the specter of . . . Nazism. "It's a touch of class to use the phrases 'never forget' and 'never again' in an attack on Austria's most popular export since Hitler, but I think any fair-minded person would agree that cutting public school fiddling classes is exactly the same as the Holocaust," Cavanaugh wrote. What extreme rhetoric will the desperate Sacramento establishment resort to next in its never-ending fight for higher taxes? Remember, this came two months after California voters resoundingly rejected higher taxes in the belief that a state with among the nation's highest income, sales and gasoline taxes should be able to make ends meet. Yet no one in the Sacramento media -- not one journo -- pointed out that Dems were reviling Republicans for opposing higher taxes just after California voters made clear that they also opposed higher taxes. Instead, the crazy comments of Karen Bass and Dem lawmakers like Noreen Evans were taken seriously by the mainstream media, or at least offered without any larger context. The public is opposed to higher taxes? Says who? Like George Skelton and Jerry Brown, evidently most Sacramento journos think it is "hard to find anyone" who doesn’t think tax hikes should be shoved down Californians’ throats.
The narrative that held the California High-Speed Rail Authority had finally figured out a smart path forward thanks to the stewardship of new board Chairman Dan Richard took a huge hit last week when the authority abruptly reversed course and said it would include Orange County after all in its first phase. So much for new realism and new austerity. This week, Richard's rep took another hit with his bizarre likening of the bullet train fiasco to a Southern California Association of Governments' long-term plan that has all kinds of dedicated funding sources. Yo, Dan: We're paying attention. Acting confident and aggressively trying to cow journalists who pose tough questions can only take you so far. At some point, everyone will figure out you're still putting lipstick on a pig. Here's the key point from a UT San Diego editorial: ... there is a huge difference between the L.A. regional plan and the state rail authority’s plan. The former has a clearly defined funding strategy. It anticipates using a combination of state and federal gas taxes; passing county sales taxes to pay for transportation projects, as has been done in recent decades; building toll roads; and borrowing. Proponents may not have all $525 billion lined up, but they have a good idea of where they will get most of their funding. The bullet train, by contrast, has no established source for its missing $55 billion. Dan Richard, like Jerry Brown, is a throwback in Sacramento -- a reminder of a bygone era in which pragmatism and candor occasionally trumped lame ideological narratives. How either one got trapped into not just defending but promoting the bullet train boondoggle is beyond me. #EpicFail
Monday's L.A. Times story with this headline -- "Bid to appease bullet train critics may violate law" -- and this subhead -- "Revisions are in conflict with the ballot measure approved by voters and may go against the Obama administration's plans. Gov. Jerry Brown backs the changes but admits potential legal problems" escaped my notice for a day. But it's epochal: It points out the clear path to the bullet train's demise. Sharp attorneys hired by well-heeled opponents of the project -- whether they are cities in the Silicon Valley, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association or Central Valley agribusiness, or all three in tandem -- are going to kill this dead in court, using the incredibly specific provisions in Proposition 1A exactly as they were intended: to prevent a boondoggle. Hip hip hooray! A series of concessions over the last year to quiet opposition to the California bullet train has created a potentially lethal problem: the revised blueprint for the system may violate requirements locked into state law when voters approved funding for the project in 2008. The Legislature packed the law with an unusual number of conditions intended to reassure voters, protect the project from later political compromises and ensure that it would not end up a bankrupted white elephant. But many of those requirements may be at odds with the plan to integrate bullet trains with existing commuter rail lines in Los Angeles and San Francisco. ... Outside critics, state oversight boards, some legislators and former officials of the California High-Speed Rail Authority say the compromises violate those requirements ... The story quotes Jerry Brown as being dismissive of the possibility that a judge might block construction if he found Prop. 1A was being violated, but that is just laughable. That's because we're not talking about the state trying to finesse the rules. The rail authority wants to obliterate them: The mandates in the law are considerable. They require that any initial segment has to use high-speed trains. Money for each operating segment needs to be in hand before construction starts. Passengers must be able to board in Los Angeles and arrive in San Francisco without changing trains. As many as 12 trains per hour are supposed to run in each direction and the system has to operate without taxpayer subsidies. Instead, the rail authority has agreed to run fewer trains at slower speeds on tracks shared with commuter rail systems, Amtrack and freight trains. In the early years, passengers will probably have to transfer trains to get from one end of the system to the other. The concept, known as the blended approach, was pushed last year by Bay Area politicians, who fought the original plan to run high-speed trains through the region on 60-foot high viaducts over local neighborhoods. The idea has attracted support in Southern California as well. What's funny about this is that the same Legislature that wrote all these specific provisions into the law wrote the ballot summary that bamboozled voters in 2008. It was so outrageously slanted that it led to a Howard Jarvis lawsuit that prompted a state appeals court to essentially block lawmakers from ever again writing ballot descriptions. So on the one hand, they were duplicitous scumbags manipulating us into voting for $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the project. But on the other hand, they were careful watchdogs who built in safeguards to protect us ... from they themselves? What a deliciously strange twist. Kings County is already suing the rail authority for noncompliance with 1A. And Jon Coupal, president of Howard Jarvis, is ready to jump in. “We don’t see how these bonds could ever be issued with such a significant legal cloud hanging over them," he wrote in an email to me. "In addition to the existing legal challenges, it is likely that multiple parties would jump into any validation action filed by the state seeking to inoculate the financing. Wall Street itself may demand that the issue be revisited by the voters.” That's a great point. Not even Kamala Harris, our Mussolini fan of an attorney general, is going to be able to make this train run on time, or ever. Woo. Hoo. Editor's note: This was updated at 8 a.m. March 28 to add Coupal's comments.
Here's my latest column for Cal Watchdog: Just as red and blue have become associated with Republicans and Democrats, respectively, because of Election Night maps, will green someday become a synonym for fraud and dishonesty? After listening to Jerry Brown's two years of lies, prevarications and fantasies about "green jobs," I hope so. It would be semantic justice. What brings this to mind is the latest fusillade of flapdoodle from Gov. Brown and his aides. On Friday, speaking in Goleta at The Wall Street Journal's annual ECO:nomics conference, Brown offered warm words for himself. The governor praised the governor for the governor's determination to revive California's rotten economy by creating vast numbers of green jobs. It was all a recycling of the rhetoric Brown has offered since securing the Democratic nomination for governor in early 2010: A commitment to renewable energy will create more than 500,000 jobs and get Californians working again! Message: Jerry cares! But in an environmentally responsible way! But two years later, there is simply no evidence of a green economic revolution in the Golden State. Unemployment remains among the worst in the nation. Meanwhile, a new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report waterboards the assumption that California is a green jobs powerhouse, saying the state is about average in green employment. Yes, "clean tech," as it's known in San Diego, has proven to be a modest economic engine, and in fact it's quite plausible that revolutionary energy technologies could emerge from a lab somewhere in California. But serious economists and business analysts, as opposed to Brown, predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, acknowledge that green energy will never be a mass employer akin to the auto, steel or aviation industries. A 2010 study by the respected McKinsey consulting group warned governments not to assume "green" jobs would ever be more than a niche in the economy akin to semiconductor manufacturing. Even the leftist Brookings Institution, in a 2011 study, warned of unrealistic expectations and said "green" jobs grew more slowly than general employment from 2003 to 2010. These studies and basic data on jobs and growth prompted a remarkable news analysis last summer in The New York Times that said Brown's green jobs forecast and President Barack Obama's promise of 5 million new green jobs nationally appeared to be a "pipe dream." Alas, the cuts in the newsroom budgets of the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times appear to have included their subscriptions to The New York Times. Even as reporters for both of the state's most powerful newspapers finally have figured out that another putatively green initiative -- the bullet train -- is a fiasco, they continue to enthusiastically print the governor's green balderdash. You'd think coverage of an "ECO:nomics" conference that featured a governor congratulating himself on green job creation might bother to include some relevant facts, such as the Brookings Institution's discovery that there were actually fewer green jobs in Silicon Valley in 2010 than 2003. But no. L.A. Times reporter Ricardo Garcia didn't think it was relevant in his Friday account. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee's David Siders did manage to allow some real-world events to flavor his Saturday story about Brown's grand plans for solar power, noting the vast problems facing a proposed solar plant in Blythe that the governor just last year predicted would be a "really big" boost to jobs and growth. But Siders -- a naif who wrote a puff piece about the bullet train CEO just two weeks before the incompetent rail official was forced to resign -- also included in his March 24 article a paragraph of spin from a Brown official that had me roaring with laughter. "In theory, the fact that we're having failures is actually a sign that the market's working – that we have some comfort because there's a lot of people out there, and out of this the best projects will probably emerge," said Michael Picker, a senior adviser to Brown on renewable energy. The bad news? Hey, it's actually good news. What the market is saying, of course, is that it's still got profound doubts about the practicality and cost of renewable energy -- even with the billions of dollars thrown at it by the Obama administration, even with promises of future subsidies, even with regulatory relief not granted to less sainted industries. Did Siders bother to cite the McKinsey or Brookings reports? Did he look at all the various factors The New York Times cited in pronouncing green jobs a "pipe dream"? Did he note that there is in fact an energy jobs boom going on right now -- but, as The New York Times reports, it's in fossil fuels? Nope. He let Brown's aide depict green failure as green success. Only in California, global headquarters for the cult that is environmentalism, could coverage of green energy be so half-assed that I would yearn for it to be outsourced to The New York Times.
I hammered George Skelton as hard as I could in December when the L.A. TImes' columnist wrote that it was "hard to find anyone around the Capitol outside the governor’s office who doesn’t think the promise [to seek voter approval before raising taxes] was wrongheaded." Uhhhhh .... George? George? George? Have you heard about the majority of Californians opposed to tax hikes? But lookie here: Skelton is dumping on Jerry's demagogic, nonsensical tax hike ballot compromise the day it is finalized! Did George's career-long concussion finally wear off? The Brown-CFT deal would cut his sales-tax hike in half. And it would smack the wealthy more than the governor had wanted — raising state income-tax rates by one percentage point for single-filers earning more than $250,000; by two points for those making more than $300,000; and by three points on earnings exceeding $500,000. Currently, the top rate for million-dollar earners is 10.3%. The income-tax increases would last seven years, rather than five, as Brown originally proposed. The tiny sales-tax hike would last four years. The reshaped proposal is bound to be more popular with the electorate than Brown's original. A larger share of the tax load would be shifted to fewer voters. But it's poor public policy. Although it may be satisfying for the majority, smacking the rich worsens a California tax system that badly needs to be overhauled. The top 1% already pay roughly 40% of the state income tax. This results in an extremely volatile revenue roller-coaster. In boom times, the rich prosper and pour money into the state vault. During periods of bust, their capital gains dwindle and so does the state's revenue stream. The state suffers budget deficits. Schools, universities and the poor people's safety net are slashed. But George still isn't fully out of the tank. The implication that schools and universities suffer as much as poor people when revenue lags is a crock. The poor are pounded far worse. Why? They don't have influential unions representing them in Sacramento. Yet I shouldn't gripe. After years of knee-jerk support of the Sacramento establishment, George Skelton has been shocked, shocked enough to finally figure out that the establishment maybe really is rigged for public employees, whether on pensions or teacher tenure or "air time" or a million other things. Maybe, just maybe, after 50 years on the job, George will keep "growing" and end up realizing that California is far more imperiled by the ideologues of the left than the ideologues of the right.
After Jerry Brown mocked Senate President Darrell Steinberg last fall for pushing the latest "siren song of school reform," the gov went on to tout local control as a better way than the current emphasis on student testing and teacher accountability. Here and elsewhere, I've pointed out the obvious -- in effect, if not in words, what Brown wants is tantamount to a return to the old days of how public education operated. Yo, Jerry: K-12 schools way back when were so dysfunctional that it triggered the broad education reform movement that you now consider a trendy failure, including the misfire that is No Child Left Behind. I've been waiting .... and waiting ... and waiting ... for someone else in the media to figure this out. Now someone has, and lordy lordy, it's former Sac Bee editorial page editor Peter Schrag, one of the most respected establishment voices on education. Brown now talks blithely about weighted school funding and increased local control. But it’s a century of local (and/or state) control, always responsive to electoral majorities, which brought the educational mess the nation finds itself in now. This is why I wrote what I wrote in December. Education is one of the biggest issues in California, yet Jerry -- while billing himself as the smartest guy in the room -- has staked out a fundamentally incoherent stand: The governor pairs this broad skepticism of reform efforts with a denunciation of federal officials such as U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan for not having "a trust or even a belief in local schools" -- as if school reform will ever percolate up from districts in which teachers unions are almost always the most powerful force and use their clout to maximize teacher compensation and jobs protection. So, to sum up, Brown knows schools need to improve. (Good.) But he is suspicious of reformers and appears to doubt sweeping reforms based on broad policy changes could even work. (Uh-oh.) And he thinks local school districts could innovate their way to success if given the chance. (Oh, no!) This is a perfect recipe for inertia, for the governor has tied himself up in knots. Why on Earth would alleged smart guy Jerry Brown think local control would work any better now than it did in the 1980s and 1990s? If anything, the teachers unions in California are even more powerful then they were then. Illustrating this truth: The Los Angeles Times' stories in the past 18 months that finally, finally, FINALLY followed up on Lance Izumi's long-ago reporting that it was almost impossible to fire teachers in LAUSD. Back to alleged smart guv Jerry Brown: If Brown thinks there are no slam-dunk-obvious ideas for reform -- just flashy, flavor-of-the-week ideas -- that is ridiculous. Here are two: 1) There's not a large, successful industry in the world that pays its most important employees primarily based on seniority. Nor is there such an industry that ignores which jobs are most important in favor of a one-size-fits-all pay structure. If kindergarten teachers can have such a profound long-term effect on students' lives, as research suggests, then why on Earth are they paid the same as high-school gym teachers? 2) It's 2011, for God's sake, not the 19th century. Why on Earth is our school year based on the presumption that we need to have our kids out of classrooms all summer to help get the harvest out? These are not "siren songs." They are obvious reforms. But as long as Brown sees school reform as an oxymoron, he'll never be able to rouse himself to take on the status quo. The appalling result of his dithering will be a California education system that continues to value the interests of school employees over students. Hip hip hooray. I was looking at a standard California collective bargaining agreement for school districts the other day. Teachers in the Golden State, among the highest-paid in the nation, work only 184 days a year, not the 240 or so the rest of us do. Why? Really, why? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Don't anyone dare tell me this policy is in place because it makes sense for students and for public education. That's from MSN-Encarta from 2011.