If impartial analysts had to pick one reason for the perennial dysfunction of California politics, most would probably point to the inordinate power of public employee unions.
This circumstance was made possible long ago by legislation, signed in 1978 by then-Governor Jerry Brown, that allowed state employees to unionize. Since that time the Golden State has been transformed into the bought-and-paid-for Union State. The most powerful of these despots is the 325,000-member-strong California Teachers Association.
According to a 2010 study by the California Fair Political Practices Commission, from 2000 to 2009 the CTA spent more than any other group, $211 million, in political contributions and lobbying efforts. That’s almost twice as much as the next largest spender, the Service Employees International Union. Since then CTA has spent nearly $40 million more—including $4.7 million to elect Gov. Brown.
Among the major “accomplishments” of CTA has been the ability to fund and elect its own majorities in school boards throughout the state. In 1988 the union used its vast resources to narrowly pass Proposition 98—an initiative that now requires the state to allocate about 40 per cent of its budget for public education.
Those “achievements” haven’t produced discernable academic progress, but they have put California teachers, averaging $67,900, at or near the top of the national pay scale. Moreover, CTA has consistently opposed measures to make public schools more accountable.
The organization even went so far as to kill a bill recently proposed by Democrat state senator Alex Padilla that sought to facilitate removal of teachers who engage in “serious or egregious unprofessional conduct”—especially offenses involving sex, drugs, or violence.
Public safety workers and SEIU (which represents about 350,000 government employees) are other union groups that have established political fiefdoms in Sacramento.
In many cities, including San Jose and San Diego, police, fire, and other government employees secured unsustainable pension benefits from politicians that unions largely placed on the other side of the bargaining table.
Proposition 32 offers a way to pull the power plug from these unions. This initiative will ban union and corporate contributions to state and local candidates. It also bans automatic deductions of employee wages to be used for political causes.
It may seem like common sense to allow workers to opt-in to having political contributions deducted from their wages. But that’s a pro-choice position (along with school choice) that unions are determined to squelch.
The problem facing Prop. 32, of course, is the same massive, union-funded opposition that crushed Schwarzenegger’s reform propositions in 2005 and transformed him into little more than an empty gubernatorial suit.