By The Bakersfield Californian
Q: Do the taxpayers of the United States get reimbursed for the costs of operating its jets, etc., for the president to make campaign trips all over the country?
-- Gregg Knowles
A: The simple answer is yes, partially, though clarity on exactly what is required is difficult to suss out, we found in talking to White House and Federal Election Commission officials and reading news reports.
All White House spokesman Eric Schultz said is this:
"As in other administrations, we follow all rules and regulations to ensure that the DNC (Democratic National Committee) or the president's re-election campaign pays what is required for the president to travel to political events.
"The one difference from the previous administration -- due to an FEC regulation change -- is that our campaign reimburses the federal government at a rate based on chartering a 737 aircraft, rather than a handful of first-class airline tickets."
That left open a lot of questions, so we turned to the FEC.
A spokeswoman there pointed us to pages and pages of detailed regulations. In a nutshell, though, it said a candidate committee is responsible for campaign-related events or the campaign-related portion of a candidate's travel. That includes the president's travel on Air Force One, it said.
Numerous news agencies have dug into the topic this year, generally noting that the rules are fuzzy, what is reimbursed doesn't come close to actual expenses and that all presidents have racked up these kinds of taxpayer costs.
Here's how the Associated Press in part explained things in April:
"Obama's campaign doesn't have to pay the full cost for a chartered plane, though. It pays a reduced amount based on the number of people aboard Air Force One who were traveling for political reasons. That number excludes Secret Service agents and other support staff who always travel with the president.
"Obama's political team also pays for items on the ground like food and lodging that are related to political events. Similar reimbursement rules govern political travel by the vice president and first lady, who fly on smaller, less costly military aircraft."
The AP also explored what happens when the president combines political and official business trips:
"When a presidential trip includes multiple stops, some of them for political events and some for official purposes, then travel costs get divided up between the campaign and the government. But following a decades-old White House tradition, Obama aides declined to share details on how that's done."
In August, according to other news accounts, a Connecticut town sought from the DNC reimbursement of $14,812 worth of police and fire overtime costs incurred during an Obama fundraising trip there but was denied.
When Obama came to Keene last month to dedicate the Cesar Chavez National Monument -- technically presidential, not campaign, business -- officials at the Kern County Fire and Sheriff's departments and the California Highway Patrol said they wouldn't be reimbursed for their efforts to protect the president.
Q: Who is responsible for the traffic light at the intersection of South Union Avenue and Taft Highway/Panama Road? Who sets the timing for the lights?
I cross there every day going to and from Lamont. The east-west light is green for about only 15 seconds (I've timed it with my watch). From a complete stop, if there are more than two cars ahead of you, you may not make the light if they are slow in moving forward when the light goes green.
In the afternoon when there may be a line of eight to 10 cars, it may take two or three light cycles to get by. If there is a semi-truck and trailer or cement truck ahead of you, the light is already changing to red when it gets halfway into the intersection.
Is it possible to have somebody check this out and perhaps increase the green light time to at least 25 or 30 seconds?
-- John McKenna
A: That intersection is in the jurisdiction of the county of Kern, which checked on the light in response to this question.
Barry Nienke, senior engineering manager in the Kern County Roads Department, told us more:
Mr. McKenna is correct. The westbound direction has a maximum of 15 seconds. We found some other minor problems that we need to work on but there was no reason for the short time. So the time for westbound traffic has been increased to 25 seconds (which matches the maximum time in all the other directions).
We do appreciate citizens bringing these issues to our attention. We try to catch everything but with more than 3,300 miles of road and more than 100 signals to maintain, we don't always see everything.
Q: What is going to happen to the abandoned two-story structure and eroding parking lot by the corner of Verdugo Lane and Rosedale Highway in front of ACE Hardware? I wonder if there are any plans on demolishing the ugly structure and fix the awful parking lot.
-- Full name not given
A: It appears work has resumed on that building, which according to county planning officials is slated to be a 3,624-square-foot structure.
The original county permits from 2008 indicated there was to be a beauty salon, pool supply business and second-floor mezzanine there, but with the passage of time, it's unclear what will actually end up in there.
A woman connected with the project declined to talk on the record about what the plans for that building and the parking lot are, suggesting we check back in January or February for more information.
Ask The Californian appears on Mondays. Submit questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to The Bakersfield Californian, c/o Christine Bedell, P.O. Bin 440, Bakersfield, CA 93302.