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YOLO COUNTY NEWS
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Prop. 32: a chance to clean up the rot

RichRifkinW

By
From page B3 | October 10, 2012 | 5 Comments

“Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”
— Jesse Unruh, speaker of the California Assembly, 1966

If you don’t think Speaker Unruh knew what he was talking about, ask the Davis firefighters how it came to be that we pay for their union hour bank.

At the local, county and state level, government is going broke. Our long-term debts have become so large that most believe the only solution is to restructure what we owe in bankruptcy court.

That mother’s milk stopped nourishing us years ago. The money has become mephitic. What we have is bad government, corrupt votes and ceaselessly greedy special interests.

Proposition 32 might, however, disinfect what poisons our politics.

According to the Official Voter Information Guide, this initiative “prohibits corporations and unions from making political contributions to candidates. That is, they could not make contributions 1) directly to candidates or 2) to committees that then make contributions to candidates.”

Additionally, Prop. 32 “prohibits unions, corporations, government contractors and state and local government employers from spending money deducted from an employee’s paycheck for political purposes.”

If we had had this measure in place when Gray Davis was governor, our state would not be in the fiscal calamity it is in now. California would not be drowning in pension debt.

We likely would not have siphoned off tens of billions of dollars from higher education to pay off the prison guards’ union. Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada would not be co-signing bills written by her donors, the firefighters.

Not surprisingly, the public employee unions are breaking the bank to defeat Prop. 32. According to the Secretary of State’s office, big labor’s No committee has raised $43.4 million, this year, to defeat this good governance measure.

The corruption brought on by special interest money is not limited to our state. It’s why our streets in Davis are not being maintained. It’s why Davis residents owe more than $150 million to city retirees for their lucrative pensions and medical plans.

I first realized that the Davis City Council had been corrupted by campaign contributions in 2005. I was perusing the firefighters’ new contract, the one where we gave them a 36 percent raise in base salary and a load of impossibly expensive benefits, when I discovered the union hour bank.

I had never before heard that term. I didn’t know what it meant.

A city staffer explained that the union bank for firefighters is money we give to union president Bobby Weist for the hours he does union business. If Capt. Weist travels out of town to a union convention to learn how to extract more cash from the people of Davis, we pay him for that time.

The union bank is so utterly outrageous, so contrary to the “public interest,” that I knew it could only be the result of the money the firefighters paid to elect their people to our City Council.

When the fire contract came up again in 2009, I asked a member of the City Council (who had been “endorsed” by the firefighters) why it was so unreasonable to expect reforms, including extirpating union bank hours?

Rich, you don’t understand. The employees won’t ever give back what they worked so hard to get in the collective bargaining process!

But, really, I understood just fine. The firefighters’ union, in this case, had bought off our council. They were “negotiating” against the people they put in office. In a contest like that, the outcome is fixed. No one was negotiating for the citizens. There could be no “bargaining.”

Across the Causeway, it was the passage of SB 400 in 1999 that finally has brought our state to its knees.

That union bill retroactively raised the pensions for all state workers and paved the way for cities and counties to do the same. It is the mother’s milk that has put us tens of billions of dollars in debt.

I once asked Helen Thomson, who in 1999 was in the Assembly, why she voted in favor of that horribly corrupt bill. Helen told me that the directors of CalPERS had assured her that the retirement system could afford the inflated pensions and that the state would suffer no consequences from the change.

There was no reason to believe what CalPERS said. Its board had been infected by that same sour milk.

As I wrote in this column on Aug. 29, our current member of the Assembly, Mariko Yamada, recently helped pass the firefighters’ bill, AB 2451. Had it not been vetoed, AB 2451 would have bankrupted every city and every county in California.

Driving Davis and Yolo County into insolvency apparently did not matter as much to Yamada as the three large checks that the California Professional Firefighters gave her this year.

The power to disinfect our politics will be with the voters on Nov. 6. We have the chance to pass Prop. 32. The question is: Will the stench from the rotten milk the unions are spending stupefy a majority into voting no?

— Rich Rifkin is a Davis resident; his column is published every other week. Reach him at Lxartist@yahoo.com

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Discussion | 5 comments

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  • Rich RifkinOctober 09, 2012 - 10:24 am

    "I once asked Helen Thomson, who in 1999 was in the Assembly, why she voted in favor of that horribly corrupt bill." I need to clarify this. The conversation I had with Helen was in 2006, not in 1999. We were having coffee together in downtown Davis at Cafe Bernardo. At that time, Mrs. Thomson was serving on the Yolo County Board of Supervisors. She had requested to meet with me to explain her views on the County's attempt to take over Conaway Ranch, which I had written was a huge waste of money. It was already clear to me in 2006 that the massive increase in public employee pensions was going to cause big problems down the road. I was worried in 2006 that the programs for the poor in Yolo County would be cut to pay for those pensions and to pay the tens of millions of dollars to buy Conaway and some millions more to pay for the County's legal bills. ... As it happens, Sue Greenwald and Mike Harrington, who were on the Davis City Council when we massively increased the pensions for our sworn fire and police personnel, later told me that executives from CalPERS--who, I presume, they did not know were on the take with union money--had fooled the Davis City Council with the same contention: that this big increase in pensions would not cost the City of Davis the way it has.

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  • Alan MillerOctober 12, 2012 - 10:56 pm

    Thanks for the perspective RR. I will be voting for Prop. 32 and against Yamada. The first I already was doing, the second due to your earlier article connecting the dots. I say this as a state employee. I have been appalled at the political stances the union takes, and with my dues (it is about $1 cheaper to not be a member, as we are forced to pay in on the premise that we reap the 'benefits' regardless). I fail to see the benefits as our state goes bankrupt. The high speed rail project is another union driven enterprise that will contribute heavily to taking our state off the fiscal cliff, and most democratic legislators including our own Lois Wolk voted for it. Only Joe Simitian, Fran Pavley, Mark Desaulnier and Alan Lowenthal had the courage to vote their conscience rather than to their contributor's whims. This project passed by ONE vote, and every other democrat that voted for this should be held accountable for what that have brought down on the people of this state.

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  • JacksonOctober 13, 2012 - 8:29 am

    We all need that high speed transportation option between Fresno and Bakersfield. If it took a half an hour longer to make that trek by Amtrak or car the world would cease to function. Building it will mean union jobs, who cares if the final price tags works out to $10 million per job created. The state is already in fiscal meltdown so is another $20 billion or so going to matter? All that counts is that the Democrats made their union donors happy and we all get to Bakersfield from Fresno a little quicker.

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  • ScottOctober 13, 2012 - 10:51 am

    VOTE NO ON 32!

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  • KevinOctober 14, 2012 - 9:21 am

    VOTE NO ON 32 !

    Reply | Report abusive comment
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