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The US Common Sense Team


USCS in the Press


California Common Sense Assesses California’s 10 Greatest Challenges

Mountain View, CA (June 11, 2014). Today, California Common Sense released a 10-part report called “Unsustainable California: The Top 10 Issues Facing the Golden State.” Each stand-alone section of the report details a specific, unsustainable problem that will become unduly burdensome for future generations if left unaddressed today. In the midst of the current budget negotiations, a number of which focus on these issues, this report gives voices to citizens and future generations that have no voices in Sacramento today. For them, these issues will determine what kind of California they inherit and fund.

Press Release

Bay Area cities need more police, not higher pay for them

It is frightening to realize that despite rising crime rates, the Bay Area’s largest cities are fielding fewer police officers. The reason is not a lack of revenue: Those cities report greater tax revenues now than before the Great Recession. Rather, the reason is that those cities now devote more of their budgets to overtime and salary increases for officers, forcing them to cut the number of officers on the street. What our communities need, however, is more police.

U.S. public pensions need more than investment windfall

“For many public pension funds, the hole is so deep — in the range of many tens of billions of dollars for some of them — that they would need decades of double-digit returns to approach full funding,” said Autumn Carter, executive director of California Common Sense, a non-partisan think-tank founded at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California. “Realistically they cannot earn their way out of their shortfalls.”

Money for Nothing: The State Teachers’ Pension Fund Blew $44 Million on the 8 Washington Project

California is the largest state in the nation and its teachers’ pension fund is, accordingly, the nation’s largest. Its assets comprise $181.1 billion; $22.3 billion of that is tied up in real estate. It has an interest in nearly 280 real estate ventures and its property-based holdings have grown more valuable than in pre-crash days. And yet, writing optimistically about a pension fund is a bit like penning a glowing assessment of the healthiest man in the intensive-care unit. The nonprofit California Common Sense pegs CalSTRS’ 30-year looming funding shortfall at $240 billion — a figure 80 percent greater than current contribution levels.

Assembly to Tackle Teacher Retirement Fund Debt

Autumn Carter is Executive Director of California Common Sense, a government transparency group. She said hearings are a good first step. “But we can’t ignore that fact that securing CalSTRS will mean setting aside an additional $4.5 billion to that unfunded liability every year for the next three decades,” she said. “Anything significantly less than that is like trying to hammer a nail with a toothpick.”

CalSTRS at a Crossroads

Reading California’s 2014-15 proposed budget, one could easily be hooked by proclamations of surpluses, rainy day funds, and increased contributions to schools. Unfortunately, the full story is in the details. One of the budget’s most important components is an unassuming chart titled “California’s Long-Term Liabilities.” California currently has $354.5 billion in outstanding long-term liabilities, including a massive $217.8 billion in unfunded retirement liabilities.

Brown’s great high-speed cap-and-trade dystopian railroad fantasy

The official price tag of $68 billion is flatly unbelievable. A 2012 study by California Common Sense, a Silicon Valley-based nonprofit, suggested the final cost could top $203 billion after accounting for inflation, delays and other “financing realities.” The business plans – there have been several, with a new one due this year – rely on assumptions about ridership, for example, that assume Californians will abandon their cars by the tens of thousands.

The Varied and Diverse Predictors of Local Government Bankruptcy

In February 2012, the city of Stockton, California voted to enter bankruptcy mediation. By June 2012, they had filed for bankruptcy protection. According to California Common Sense, three factors primarily led to the city’s financial problems: The housing and financial market collapse; unsustainable compensation promises, and; an ill-timed bond offering.

Will California budget surplus spur Sacramento to spend or save?

California’s growing surplus could lead to Democrat-on-Democrat budget battle in the coming months. Governor Jerry Brown has made cautious estimates about the state’s finances, but the bean-counter-in-chief, Legislative Analyst Mac Taylor, projects year-over-year increases up to a nearly $10-billion surplus by July 2018. Plus he predicts the growth will head into 2020 at least. Much of the current surplus will go to education spending, and while there are other government-financed programs in need and hard-hit by the recession (child care and welfare, for instance), some argue the extra cash should be saved for leaner years. What do you want legislators to do? If voters are given a chance to expand California’s reserve stash, will they? Guests: Mac Taylor, Legislative Analyst, State of California Chris Hoene, Executive Director, California Budget Project Autumn Carter, Executive Director, California Common Sense

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