From today’s Wall Street Journal Political Diary E-Mail…
California’s Labor Pains
Public unions in California have got to be more than a little worried after last night’s election results—and not just because of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s resounding victory.
More than two-thirds of voters in San Jose and San Diego supported ballot measures scaling back pensions for government workers. The San Diego initiative, which shifted new workers to defined contribution plans, won with 66% support. But the bigger news was in more liberal San Jose, where 70% of voters okayed benefit cuts for current workers. San Jose unions promise to sue, which would set the stage for a protracted legal battle over the extent to which pension benefits are protected under state law.
But the overwhelming support for the ballot measures reveals why Democratic legislators have refused to put California Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed pension reforms up to voters. Any pension reform initiative would almost certainly succeed. The measures also signal a decisive shift in public opinion against government unions and raise the stakes over a November ballot initiative prohibiting unions from spending members’ dues on political causes. Such a measure could significantly loosen public unions’ stranglehold on government.
The other big surprise of the night was voters’ lukewarm support for a $1 per-pack tobacco tax increase. Early results showed state voters delivering a split verdict, notwithstanding a Public Policy Institute of California poll in March which indicated that the tax enjoyed two-thirds support. Cyclist Lance Armstrong and anti-smoking groups poured nearly $20 million into the campaign, which was more than matched by tobacco companies’ expenditures.
Even so, voters’ ambivalence suggests that taxes which poll well aren’t slam ducks. That’s got to be weighing on Mr. Brown and unions who are betting that a huge tax hike on millionaires can’t lose this November.
– Alyssia Finley