California lawmakers spent the preceding months of the recently concluded legislative session reforming public-employee pensions and other unfunded liabilities that are crushing local governments. They reduced the state’s regulatory burden in a bid to spur job creation. In the waning hours of session, they even rolled back the slow-growth rules that drive up home prices — the main cause of our highest-in-the-nation poverty rates.

Say what? The above paragraph was a joke — a self-evident one for those who pay careful attention to the goings-on in the state Capitol. The chance of lawmakers even trying to enact any of the above-mentioned reforms is in the ballpark of zero. Those massive problems — growing debt levels, suppressed job creation, expanding poverty rates — should merit legislative attention, but the Democratic leadership had other priorities this year.

For instance, passing a measure that would require presidential candidates to release five years of tax returns, which was one of an endless sea of proposals and press conferences meant to stand up to the Trump administration. I’m no fan of Donald Trump, but Earth to California’s Trump-spiting legislators: The president doesn’t care about your posturing.

Then there was the fixation on gender. Creating a new “non-binary” category in addition to “male” or “female” on a driver’s license is fine, but it’s not the civil-rights victory of a decade. Furthermore, I’d prefer that legislators spent time dealing with tens of billions of dollars in pension debt rather than requiring cosmetologists to be trained in “physical and sexual abuse awareness.”

There are plenty of examples of this Legislature’s lack of seriousness, a preference for politically correct preening rather than the hard work of addressing difficult problems. But in reality, the Legislature did some serious work. As usual, they seriously devoted themselves to giving things away to the state’s politically powerful unions, and seriously expanding taxes and fees. Somebody has to pay for all the giveaways. Hint: That somebody is you.

A Sacramento Bee headline captured the session in its full ugliness: “Union power on display in California’s just-completed legislative session.” Not only did the unions help assure that public-sector cost issues were not addressed, they secured new regulations and demands on private-sector businesses.

They even undermined the privacy rights of workers who are not union members. For instance, Assembly Bill 1513 requires that the state provide the names, telephone numbers and addresses of private home-care workers to union officials, who can then show up at their doorstep. These are private workers at private companies who offer services paid for with private dollars. This will likely spread if Gov. Jerry Brown signs it into law.

Senate Bill 63 expanded the state’s parental leave law, and would require companies with as few as 20 employees to provide 12 weeks of time off. Supporters claim it won’t cost companies anything because it is unpaid time. But the bill requires job-protected time off, which means companies will have to find temporary help and continue to pay benefits. SB201, grants students the right to collectively bargain if they work as research assistants at the state’s university systems.

And there’s plenty more.

Under SB568, local school and community college districts will be required to provide at least six weeks of paid leave for pregnancy-related matters — something that could impose large labor-cost increases. AB1008, the so-called “ban the box” bill, would ban those check-off boxes on applications requiring people to disclose criminal convictions. The disclosure needn’t be made until the applicant has a tentative job offer. You can imagine what an applicant will do (sue!) after having an offer rescinded because of that little felony arrest for human trafficking.

It’s challenging to provide a short list of the really scary and potentially disastrous bills that made it to the governor’s desk given the large quantity of such measures. This comes in a session that previously saw a 12-cent-a-gallon increase in the gasoline tax and an extension of a cap-and-trade system that is likely to add yet another 63 cents to each gallon of gasoline.

The California Chamber of Commerce helped stop nine other tax-increase bills. And the ill-conceived single-payer bill that would have consumed the entire state budget was scrapped, so we should be thankful for small things.

Even when the Legislature did something right, it undermined the advantages by inserting some union requirement. SB35 provides a “by right” approval process for certain high-density housing projects — but those projects must pay union-determined prevailing-wage rates. And the other elements of the “housing package” raise fees and hike spending.

Few things happen in the Capitol unless union officials approve them, but the unions are the main obstacle to public-sector reforms and are a constant advocate for higher taxes. So anyone who tells you that the Legislature will take up pension reform, regulatory reform and poverty rates when it returns in January really is pulling your leg.

Image by Karin Hildebrand Lau


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