The agenda of California’s union-controlled state politicians is to do whatever they can to increase the amount of tax revenue flowing into the government, and increase the amount of dues revenue flowing into the coffers of government worker unions. This isn’t news, and any law they pass can be appropriately viewed in this context. But beyond grasping for tax revenue ala AB 155, which imposes sales tax on internet purchases, or grasping for union dues revenue ala SB 104, which (vetoed this time) would have imposed unionization via “card check” on agricultural workers, California’s union-controlled legislature is enacting laws that will change the ground rules of politics and governance.
The purpose of these laws, too numerous to compile, is to consolidate the power of public sector unions and ensure that government of the government workers, by the government workers, and for the government workers, will be the perpetual fate of California. As citizens awaken to the fact that government workers in California, on average, make twice as much money and work half as many hours in their careers as the taxpayers who support them, a seismic wave of reform sentiment gathers. To prepare for this tsunami, California’s government worker unions are building a seawall of regulations, many of them buried within budgets and unrelated new statutes. Here are just a few:
AB 114 – Dramatically reduces local financial control of school districts; prohibits layoffs; removes requirement for school districts to perform financial analysis to ensure they can balance their budgets. Here are a few articles providing more details about this grossly irresponsible legislation: “AB 114: A Blatant Attack on California’s Schools,” by Larry Sand, on July 12th, 2011, UnionWatch, “Stealth attack on California’s schools,” Editorial, July 8th, 2011, Los Angeles Times, “State law is stunning in its irresponsibility,” Editorial, July 2nd, San Diego Union Tribune.
AB 506 – Restricts ability of municipalities to declare bankruptcy. Another bill moving through California’s state legislature will restrict the ability of local governments in California from declaring bankruptcy, which is virtually the only way they can get out from under literally tyrannical collective bargaining agreements. As reported on June 2nd by the Sacramento Bee, the bill has already passed the assembly “Assembly approves bill to slow local government bankruptcies.”
AB 455 – Allows unions to appoint 50% of the members of personnel management boards for local governments and agencies. This bill is a perfect example of legislation that sounds innocuous, but has far reaching impact. Personnel management boards oversee the enforcement, modification, and interpretation of union negotiated work rules. From overtime benefits to staffing levels to job descriptions, having an unbiased board is essential in order to have any chance of reforming work rules that may hinder improving the efficiency and effectiveness of a public agency. Allowing the union to appoint 50% of the voting membership of these boards guarantees them veto power over any actions of these boards. This bill has been barely noticed by the media.
SB23-1X – Grants local governments the power to raise taxes. This bill, which is undergoing legal scrutiny and will undergo many revisions, nonetheless aims to grant local governments to enact increases tax increases denied at the state level by the 2/3rds vote requirement. As reported on June 4th in the San Jose Mercury in an AP article entitled “Bill would grant local power to raise taxes,” this legislation “would allow a local government, county office of education and community colleges district to levy local personal income taxes up to 1 percent, vehicle taxes up to 1.35 percent, and up to $1 per pack of cigarettes.”
These four bills, respectively, will trample on local control over school district budgeting and staffing, effectively prevent local bankruptcies, assert union control over personnel management boards, and extend the option to local governments to collect income taxes. The purpose of these bills and many others is clear – to forestall an anticipated uprising of taxpayers against the most powerful special interest in California, public sector unions.
Over the past 20+ years, as California’s state and local governments have grown far faster than the rate of inflation and population increase, the one reliable defense left to taxpayers has been the citizen initiative process. But the initiative process is under attack. No fewer than four active bills are working their way to Governor Brown for signature. Here they are:
ACA 6 – Prevents passage of initiatives that reduce tax revenues. According to bill sponsor Assemblyman Mike Gatto, ACA 6 “will require initiatives that spend money or create a new program or mandate to identify and specify the funding to pay for it.” The practical effect of this bill, which would require language in any initiative specifying a new source of tax revenue for any costs attendant to enforcing the initiative in excess of $5.0 million, would be to only allow initiatives onto the ballot that raised taxes. This law would leave the decision regarding the financial impact of a proposed initiative in the hands of the State Dept. of Finance, where they could anoint bills they favored, and subject the ones they don’t like to a slanted financial analysis, or, worse, delayed indefinitely in the limbo of an ongoing analysis.
SB 448 – forces circulators of those kind of petitions to wear a button that tells whether they are paid or volunteer. Sponsored by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, SB 448 would require that people who collect signatures wear signs around their necks announcing whether they are a paid signature-gatherer or a volunteer signature-gatherer, and whether they are registered to vote.
SB 168 – Bans ballot committees and individuals from paying people who circulate petitions for initiatives, referendums and recalls on the basis of the number of signatures they collect. Instead of paying signature gatherers based on their productivity, these workers would be required to receive an hourly wage. Equally troubling, they would be required to be hired as full time employees – an utterly impractical approach to what is seasonal, temporary work. The practical effect of this law will be to double or triple the cost of putting an initiative onto the ballot, which drives out the grassroots organizations but leaves intact the prerogatives of powerful special interests.
ACA 10 – Would allow the Legislature to amend or repeal voter-initiated statutes after they have been in effect for four years. Again, the practical effect of this would be to force grassroots taxfighting organizations back into expensive initiative battles every four years, making it very difficult to implement lasting reforms.
Ultimately, what California’s union-dominated legislature is doing is nothing but a holding action. Restrictions on education budgeting and staffing decisions, as well as restrictions on the ability of municipalities to declare bankruptcy, are preempted by an even harder reality: Default. Stacking the membership of personnel management boards with union operatives, or enabling municipalities to raise taxes – along with evisceration of the initiative process – are all craven actions of a special interest that has overreached.
Edward Ring is a contributing editor and senior fellow with the California Policy Center, which he co-founded in 2013 and served as its first president. He is also a senior fellow with the Center for American Greatness, and a regular contributor to the California Globe. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Economist, Forbes, and other media outlets.
To help support more content and policy analysis like this, please click here.