The old political saying,”pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered,” may never be more true than in the upcoming election cycle. While its no secret that labor unions have had a run of the Capitol for a generation, a recent political development illustrates just how out of touch and blinded they are to what’s happening in the state — and the jeopardy it puts them in on their fight this fall against both the Stop Special Interest Money Now ballot measure and the Governor’s measure to hike income and sales taxes.
It all started a couple weeks ago when my friend Steve Maviglio – the Democrat political consultant and former adviser to Gray Davis and Fabian Nunez – reached out to give me a heads up on the California Forward budget reform initiative that is about to qualify for the November ballot.
Steve was letting me know that a little known provision in the measure would allow two things that conservatives should be very worried about — first, he said he had a memo written by Speaker John Perez office saying it would allow local governments to both undo key provisions of Prop 13 AND allow for local tax increases without a vote of the people. He actually wrote about his concerns in a Capitol Weekly column. Naturally I was alarmed, and so I contacted the most knowledgeable person I know about Prop. 13: Jon Coupal of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. He did not seen very concerned about this at all. We both thought it curious that suddenly Steve Maviglio, always a big booster of higher state taxes, would be trumpeting such a concern…
I have always been of mixed opinion about California Forward. The idea that a bunch of middle-of-the-road types would get together and hammer out solutions to the woes facing California’s dysfunctional state government seemed a big naïve. Some of their ideas sounded good to me, but others — not so much. But the call from Maviglio calls suggesting he and Speaker Perez office are looking to help out the taxpayer – something’s up.
For the first time I took a close look at what the measure does – 3 day in print rule, performance-based budgeting, a review of government programs and a “pay as you go” provision that will (gasp) require the state to identify how it’s paying for programs and services… essentially a checklist of all kinds of things that the Democrats in the Capitol would hate because it would interfere with their current free reign over state spending. (Longtime FR friend Joel Fox wrote on the “pay go” provisions of this measure over on his site, Fox and Hounds Daily, yesterday.)
And then it clicked. The Democrats are panicked because they know this measure will be popular with voters and it may actually require more accountability and transparency to the public. They can’t have that! (Just ask Assemblyman Anthony Portantino.)
In fact, they’re so panicked it seems that they have enlisted their two most reliable patrons — labor unions and environmentalists to attack the measure for them and try to kill it before it gets going.
Here’s where the story starts getting good…
For the past few months labor and the environmentalists have been trying to strong arm the Democrats on the California Forward board into resigning, not submitting signatures or blowing up the organization. They’ve actually had some success in securing a few resignations.
Tom Adams, a key environmental lobbyist, even floated the idea that the “community strategic action” plans in the provision would allow local governments to reform CEQA, undo clean air and water acts, and generally spoil the environment since that’s what people would apparently do without environmentalists’ paternal guidance.
But the environmentalists have it wrong (shocking). In their zeal to pressure the Democrats off the California Forward board by threats and scare tactics, the Democrats used political rhetoric and
exaggerated hyperbole – and forgot about the law.
The California Forward measure was written by the iconic Democrat law firm Remcho, Johannson and Purcell who have written a strongly worded response to Tom Adams, refuting his claims and clearly showing that the false claims are politically motivated and not grounded on any legal basis. (There is some irony at Remcho et.al, one of the state’s most prominent Democrat law firms, schooling the envirowhack set.)
As much as I would love to see CEQA reform — by my read this measure doesn’t allow for that. Good luck raising money against a measure when you got the law wrong and started shooting before you asked questions.
Interestingly, I’m told Capitol Democrats had months to work out a deal with California Forward to avoid a costly battle on yet another campaign front. While California Forward had gathered the signatures to place this measure on the ballot, they held off on submitting them to try and strike a compromise (as moderates are want to do). I was told that California Forward and Republican leaders Connie Conway and Bob Huff agreed to a compromise that eliminated the “pay as you go” provision and the “community strategic action plans” – essentially taking off the table the key provisions that were the cause of so much angst (“pay-go”) and fiction (“community strategic action plans”).
Republicans demonstrated again a willingness to reach bi-partisan consensus on some reforms and agreed to put up the votes on a compromise measure. But then…the Democrats moved the ball.
Unable to accommodate even the most modest reforms, Democrats have set themselves up for a disaster. They will now have to spend even more resources fighting a good government measure against a public chomping at the bit to punish Sacramento politicians. You see, California Forward went again and submitted their signatures. And who can blame them?
Here’s the best part… drumroll please… this means that this November labor unions will be spending millions trying to defeat the Stop Special Interest Money Now measure, pass massive tax increases, and now also oppose this measure which will be wrapped in a banner of more transparency and accountability in the process.
Oh…and there’s about 40 legislative races that might require some of their attention — and resources.
By forcing the resignation of their allies on the California Forward board, labor unions and the environmentalists have lost any influence they had with the organization and have now handed Republicans and angry voters a stick to beat them with. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that keeping Sacramento politicians accountable is an easy a sell as possible in this political environment. It seems to me that the messaging on this campaign can now be decidedly anti-politician, anti-Sacramento and as a result, anti-tax and anti-special interest money.
In the end it seems like hubris on the part of those controlling the Capital have left them will a war opened on yet another front. Their inability to strike a compromise will now cost them real money – millions of dollars in campaign funds, to try and defeat the California Forward measure.