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California

Steven Greenhut
A Yes Man Says No
Jerry Brown angers his labor-union friends with some expedient vetoes.
5 October 2012

Californians hoping for a return to fiscal sanity in a debt-soaked, union-dominated state had some good news this week, when Governor Jerry Brown vetoed three major union-backed bills. “Gov. Jerry Brown is proving not to be a yes man—even to unions that spent millions to elect him,” observed the Sacramento Bee’s Jim Sanders. Brown has been in the past as much of a “yes man” to unions as any governor could be, but he apparently sets some limits on his willingness to placate their insatiable demands.

Brown’s most significant veto was Assembly Bill 2451, a Democratic bill that gained some Republican support and passed the assembly on a lopsided vote of 57 to 19 and the senate by 21 to eight. Currently, the families of California’s “public-safety workers” (police, fire and prison guards, campus security guards, milk inspectors, etc.) receive survivor benefits through the state workers’ compensation system when a worker dies in a job-related incident. The families can receive $250,000 in total benefits, parceled out in monthly installments, or more if the safety officer dies within four and a half years of injury (in practice, the state has considered every sort of injury, from heart disease to cancer, somehow “job-related”). Assembly speaker John Perez and his fellow Democrats tried to expand an already-generous survivors’ benefit almost without limit—meaning, for instance, that if a retired police officer died of cancer at 90, his family could file a claim and receive a large payout.

Legislators later amended the bill, merely doubling the time period in which family members could file claims, and eliminating some of the more outlandish causes of death. But the bill remained outrageous even in modified form, and it shows the lengths to which the legislature will go to enrich union members. “The problem is that over the years, the legislature has been doing the bidding of unions by creating within the law presumptions that literally put the government (at every level) in the position of having to disprove that a cause of death was work related, rather than the burden of proof being the other way—like it is in the private sector,” explained Jon Fleischman, publisher of the influential Republican-oriented Flashreport.

Fortunately, Governor Brown vetoed this monstrosity. But what does it say that AB 2451 landed on his desk in the first place? The state’s financial crisis hasn’t abated. Californians, including the state’s Democratic leadership, are aware that public-employee compensation is worsening the state’s budgetary problems. Lawmakers acknowledged as much when they hastily passed some inadequate pension reforms in the waning days of the legislative session last month. The public has wised up to the many compensation-spiking scams that have bankrupted cities like Stockton. As the Bee reported, paraphrasing Brown’s veto message, “Potentially, costs could range from modest to massive, perhaps totaling tens of millions of dollars for the state and hundreds of millions for local government.” Yet the legislature passed the bill anyway.

The governor also vetoed a “Domestic Workers Bill of Rights,” which would have been the second such law passed in the nation (after New York’s). The legislation, on behalf of home health aides, would have imposed myriad union work rules and wage-and-benefit requirements on families caring for the ill, elderly, or disabled. The legislation showed once again that unions never rest in advancing their agenda into any area of life where they can get a foothold. Finally, the governor vetoed a farmworker safety bill, explaining that farm organizations are already doing a good job of complying with protections to help farm workers avoid heat-related problems.

Why would the governor seemingly go out of his way to anger core constituencies? The main reason is Proposition 30, the November ballot initiative that would raise income taxes on those Californians earning more than $250,000 and hike sales taxes on everyone. Passing the tax increase is the centerpiece of the governor’s “recovery” plan, and Brown wasn’t about to let opponents use evidence of another public-employee giveaway to torpedo the initiative’s chances of passage in the final weeks before the election. Prop. 30 polls at roughly 50 percent support in recent opinion surveys, but the measure’s popularity is waning as the election draws closer. Opponents are hammering the governor for his support of a high-speed-rail boondoggle and a state-parks scandal, in which officials “misplaced” $54 million in special funds after Brown claimed that park budgets must be cut to help balance the state budget. The truth is, California’s problems arise from a continuing spending addiction.

Though some Latino and farm-labor activists blasted Brown for his “betrayal,” many union Democrats didn’t seem too upset, at least publicly, by the governor’s vetoes. Whether Prop. 30 wins or loses, the unions will be back again next session, trying to fleece taxpayers with new legislation. Despite Brown’s vetoes, his Democratic allies have apparently learned nothing. Though it seems hard to believe, Jerry Brown is currently the only man standing between the unions and California taxpayers.

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