California Dolphin: statewide California news

The Party of Government rules California

If you’re looking for a moment that illustrates California’s unique form of political corruption, consider that public employee unions are furnishing the offices of our new lieutenant governor. In fairness, they were asked to do so – by the lieutenant governor herself.
California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis has raised about $300,000 for the nonprofit, “Committee to Support the Office of the Lt. Governor.” Most of that money came from government unions, according to news reports.
But $300,000 for paint and furniture is pocket change to California’s government unions. They collect nearly $1 billion in dues every single year. They spend most of that money in political races — not merely in the form of cash but also in in-kind contributions of labor such as the essential “door-knockers, walkers and talkers,” as they’re called in the political campaign world.
Union leaders deploy cash and volunteers on behalf of candidates who, once elected, assure those union leaders of higher pay and benefits for government employees. In any other world this would be called what it is: legalized corruption.
California is run not by people called “Democrats” or “Republicans” or by self-described independents. It’s run by this Party of Government, by politicians and the powerful union leaders who back them — representatives of teachers, administrative staff, police, firefighters and other unions.
Unions exerted their power again this week by rallying state lawmakers to pass Assembly Bill 1505, which eliminates the right of charter school supporters to appeal application denials from biased local school districts to county and state boards of educations. This will strangle the growth of these publicly funded nonprofits, which are permitted by government to educate kids whose families are looking for a path out of failing union-run schools.
The teachers unions despise them for three reasons. First, the documented success of these alternative schools reveals the brokenness of old-fashioned union-run schools. Second, every child who enters a charter school takes with him or her the state money that feeds the union-run system. Third, most charter schools aren’t unionized, which means a loss of revenue for the union. That’s why the California Teachers Association put AB 1505 on its “must-pass” list.
As lawmakers inside the capitol voted on AB1505, parents, most of them people of color, rallied outside to oppose it. Around California, the black-owned press was unified, calling for more charter schools. The powerful NAACP actually split over the bill, with Riverside, San Bernardino and San Diego chapters calling for more charter schools. Other leading African American groups, including the Urban League, joined the call for more charters. They understand that poor parents trapped in failing neighborhood schools may soon lose the one hope they have for escape.
You might call the Assembly tone-deaf, but its hearing is perfectly tuned to the instructions of the teachers unions that back their campaigns for office.
This phenomenon isn’t limited to public education. In Santa Ana, city councilmembers Cecilia Iglesias and Juan Villegas recently voted against a pay increase for city police. (Full disclosure: Iglesias and I work together at California Policy Center.) They’re not soft on crime, just tough on finance: they noted that the pay increase sought by the police union would be unaffordable for a city already noteworthy for its poverty.
Thanks to their less circumspect council colleagues, the police union got its raise anyhow. Iglesias and Villegas have since been the target of a recall effort. Even if they beat the recall, the two councilmembers can count on a brutal re-election campaign in which the police union will brand them menaces to society. It may be time to change the motto emblazoned on the sides of Santa Ana’s patrol cars to: “To Protect & Serve Ourselves.”
The irony here is that government employees are at risk here, too. In Oxnard, Ventura County’s largest city, government employees successfully lobbied over two decades for higher pay and retirement benefits. Last month, the city manager said the train has finally run out of gravy. “The bottom line is that we must eliminate some of the programs and services that we provide because we simply cannot afford them,” the city manager told employees. “Some employees will lose their positions, and some will lose their jobs. I am sorry that this is necessary.”
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The city manager explained that his employees were victims of their own unions’ success. Excessive retirement benefits and rising health care costs, all negotiated by union representatives, are the primary drivers in the Oxnard crisis. In communities all over California, similar mass layoffs are just over the horizon.
These unions invariably bolster their demands for more money by pointing out that the cost of living in California is the highest in the nation. And they’re right. But every time we pay out more to our 1.5 million public employees (and another 1 million or so government retirees), we commit every Californian to higher taxes. Those higher taxes raise the cost of living — and that provides union leaders with the evidence they need to demand yet another increase from pliant public officials. It’s a vicious cycle.
If you demand effective education, if you balk at the impulse to raise taxes in the face of any public “crisis,” if you demand that our public officials represent the interests of the people rather than the government workforce, then you’ll oppose the Party of Government. Indeed, it ought to be a point of principle that any public official backed by government unions cannot also represent the people.
Will Swaim is president of the California Policy Center, a nonprofit dedicated to democracy and prosperity for all Californians, and is co-host of National Review’s Radio Free California podcast. Tweet him @WillSwaim.

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