California Voters Still Embrace Unionized Government

California residents are depressed about the economy and see little hope for change in the near future, yet they seem more reluctant than ever to change the current high-tax, union-dominated political course that has led to the struggling economy.

As the Field Poll revealed in July, “Californians have had an extremely gloomy view of the state’s economy since 2008 … . Currently nine out of ten residents … describe the state’s economy as being in bad times.” The data is a couple months old, but nothing suggests any drastic change since then.

Meanwhile, the latest polling for the two highest-profile ballot initiatives for November are good news for those who embrace the status quo. A new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows Gov. Jerry Brown’s tax-hiking Proposition 30, which would temporarily increase sales taxes and income taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, ahead 52 percent to 40 percent. By the way, how often have you met a tax hike that actually goes away?

Furthermore, PPIC reports that voters have soured on perhaps the most significant statewide initiative on the statewide ballot, Proposition 32, a “paycheck protection” measure that is losing 49 percent to 42 percent. (Even though support for it is fading, PPIC found a solid majority of voters in favor of the goals of the initiative, which makes California voters even more perplexing.)

The proposition stops the state’s politically dominant unions from using automatic payroll deductions to finance their political activities. The initiative has some other features, such as a bans on political payroll deductions from corporations, on direct giving to political candidates and on political donations from government contractors seeking favors.

But these other provisions are mostly pointless. Corporations do not use payroll deductions to fund political efforts. Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision in 2010, few corporations or unions give political contributions directly to candidates, preferring to use independent campaigns to help chosen candidates. Typical of all initiatives, Prop. 32 includes a few provisions that are meant more to sway voters than change policy.

Nevertheless, the core issue here—restricting those payroll deductions that are the foundation of union political power—is not just principled, but crucial if California voters are serious about moving the state away from its current political and economic trajectory.

No one should have their money taken by force and used for political purposes that often are at odds with one’s beliefs. No one should have money deducted automatically from their paycheck and given to a private organization without one’s consent. This is a freedom issue as well as a political-influence issue. The current situation is pure coercion.

Under Prop. 32, the unions can still deduct an agency fee to pay for collective-bargaining activities. Ironically, liberal groups are complaining that corporations and conservative donors are funding ads supporting Prop. 32 even as massive union spending, thanks to the current forced-donation situation that Prop. 32 addresses, is pounding the initiative with ads making dubious claims about exemptions for wealthy businesses.

States that have passed paycheck-protection-type laws have seen mixed results because of various loopholes and legal challenges, but there’s little question that public- and private-sector union political influence has been reduced. A study by the conservative Heritage Foundation found that on average state laws that limit these political payroll reductions slash union political contributions in half. Unions are still able to raise plenty of money – but they have to ask for it rather than just take it.

One major California union called Prop. 32 “the Death Star for unions,” which is an overstatement, but provides some insight into how concerned the unions are about this proposition.

Consider why it is on the Nov. 6 ballot. Last year, Brown signed a law requiring ballot initiatives to take place during the general election and not during lower-turnout primary elections. “Everyone knows that passing SB 202 was to diminish chances that voters would pass a so-called ‘paycheck protection’ measure that would eat into unions’ ability to gather campaign funds from public employees—money that almost always goes to Democrats,” opined Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters.

Brown was elected with strong support from unions and has governed in a way that usually puts their priorities first. The Democratic Party, which controls every statewide constitutional office and could soon have two-thirds control of both houses of the Legislature, is always doing the bidding of the unions. If this doesn’t change, it’s hard to envision an optimistic future here.

Some Democrats understand how unions are destroying public services. Former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles is a spokesperson for Prop. 32, because she—as a devoted education reformer—has watched the teachers’ union squelch reform and turn California’s public schools into bureaucratic nightmares.

“If we don’t deal with how the beast is fed, and what maintains that, and what gives it status and opportunity to run roughshod over the educational lives and futures of six million kids in California, then shame on us,” Romero told The Wall Street Journal’s Allysia Finley.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle, which opposed Prop. 32 in an editorial, grasps the heart of the problem: “There is no question that organized labor has a powerful grip on the state Capitol, and that works against the public’s interest on issues such as education reform, government efficiency and pension reform.”

Then why not take serious steps to loosen that grip? If California voters reject Prop. 32 and support Prop. 30, the unions will maintain their financial control over the political process, and all Californians will pay more to prop up the current dysfunctional system. And, no doubt, the same California voters will continue to tell pollsters how unhappy they are with the current state of affairs.

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

4 replies
  1. Avatar
    Jim Capatelli says:

    “Former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles is a spokesperson for Prop. 32, because she–—as a devoted “education” reformer who now makes over $300,000 a year—–learned only a few years ago how much more she’d get paid just for stabbing her former friends in the back. Gloria is now “Belle of the Ball” and has made it clear that she’s “open to doing absolutely anything, with anyone at all, for the right price. ;-)”

  2. Avatar
    Jim Capatelli says:

    Great News: “Proposition 30, which would temporarily increase sales taxes and income taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, ahead 52 percent to 40 percent.

    “Furthermore, PPIC reports that voters have soured on perhaps the most significant statewide initiative on the statewide ballot, Proposition 32, a “paycheck protection” measure that is losing 49 percent to 42 percent.”

    Woo Hoo! You’ve made my evening! I can’t wait to share this with friends and family—none of whom, believe it or not, are unionized workers.

    Like a lot of people, we’re on to the privatizers, the Ayn Rand j.o. circles, the Reagan Fetishists, Zero Tax Bozos, Biology Deniers, all funded by the same repulsive, tiny circle of Kochs, Waltons and some newly rich like the little dick from Amazon.

    In the past, we didn’t have this message. Now, we do. Californians and all other American citizens are beginning to get it: The Wealthy, Ruling Elite are trying to f__k you.

    And now, we’re saying, “No…F__k YOU!!!”

    Get it?

    So, no wonder you’re going to get EACH cheek of your big ass paddled next month. It’s something you deserve.

    P.S. Did you puny little functionaries of the Wealthy Ruling Elite really think that you could somehow cross the chasm and become actual MEMBERS?!?!?!


  3. Editor
    Editor says:

    Jim: Thank you for your comments. We respect your opinion, and will not suggest that there aren’t verbally abusive people commenting on both sides of the debate over the proper role – if any – for public sector unions. We will let you keep posting comments, but we’ll have to censor your foul language.

    Your opinions would be more useful if you would stick to logic and facts, however. You claim that the wealthy elites are trying to break unions. One might counter that wealthy elites tend to split on the issue of unions. Many wealthy people are very pro-union, for various reasons both noble (albeit naive) and cynical.

    Another perspective you may wish to consider is that public sector unions have operated with virtually no political opposition, and the results have been catastrophic. Their agenda is not the public interest, it intrinsically favors the interest of government workers, at the expense of the public interest. This is why public sector workers, on average, now enjoy incomes that are twice as high as private sector workers. This is why public sector unions invariably use their considerable political influence to relentlessly advocate more government hiring and more government programs, often regardless of the cost or benefit to society. And this is why we have government spending deficits, especially at the state and local levels, where about 60% of all taxes are spent in the U.S.

    Those of us who care about ALL workers understand that as long as public sector workers enjoy special privileges, such as retirement and health security that is many times better than what anyone relying on social security and medicare can ever expect, we will never have the grassroots political will to fix and upgrade those systems.

    Not all of us are libertarians, or Republicans, or against defined benefit pensions, or universal health care. But as long as unionized government workers collude with wealthy elites to design and exploit a system that overwhelmingly favors their exclusive interests (especially with Wall Street bankers who feed on interest from government deficit financing and cash flows from government pension fund investments), the average worker in this country has no chance.

  4. Avatar
    Mark Jacobs says:

    I find it absolutely unimaginable that people are still brainwashed into the belief that the wealthy are big bad money grubbing people. Corporations have a huge chunk of their stocks owned by union retirement accounts, the same corporations that everyone hollers about are making money to pay for these whiners retirements.

    The economy is a complex web of interwoven monetary exchanges. The wealthy are the ones investing in business so people have jobs to buy houses cars and feed themselves and family and then the same people that have the jobs complain that it isn’t good enough they need to pay more, get taxed more, etc. Go ahead make it so the wealthy don’t want to invest in business here and create jobs here. They can take their money and put it to use in another state or country then who benefits? The wealthy aren’t going to get hurt, they will just shuffle things around to where it benefits them the most. We already have wealthy people moving out of the country and getting dual citizenship so they will no longer have to pay the higher taxes. So now what? No jobs skyrocketing unemployment and little to no taxes to pay for the high union cost of workers wages, benefits and retirements.

    The PUBLIC Unions are the problem, not the solution, they are right now paying massive amounts to fight prop. 32. Teachers and Administrators are making $100K a year and more in pay and benefits but people seem to be blind to this and keep falling for the line that a teacher only makes $35k, that is hogwash, I’m sorry but I just don’t see how people can be so blind.

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