Prop. 32: a chance to clean up the rot

By From page B3 | October 10, 2012

“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 [email protected]

Rich Rifkin

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