It’s Leftward Ho — and No End in Sight
Steven Greenhut
by

Sacramento

California’s legislative session has, mercifully, come to a close. The big takeaway, from a national political perspective, is that the state’s Democratic leadership has thrown down the gauntlet at the Trump administration. If Gov. Jerry Brown signs the “sanctuary state” bill that prohibits state and local authorities from cooperating with federal immigration officials, then we’ll be watching an entertaining showdown over federal funding issues.

California lawmakers also voted to require presidential candidates to release five years of their tax returns if they want to compete in presidential races here — an obvious jab at Donald Trump, who inexcusably refused to release his federal tax returns during the 2016 campaign. That’s more of a “poke in the eye” than a substantive policy, however.

The Legislature also voted to move the primary date from June to March, which could make our left-leaning electorate more of a player in choosing the 2020 Democratic candidate — provided other states don’t rejigger their calendars, also. The Washington Post argued that this could hurt the president by enabling Democrats to unite behind a candidate early in the election season.

I suspect the move will benefit Trump, because the early primary would mainly help the campaigns of U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, a leftist with a disturbingly partisan record as California attorney general, or Los Angeles’ “progressive” Mayor Eric Garcetti. It seems unlikely the blue-collar Midwestern swing states that pushed Trump into the White House will be fertile territory for candidates spouting the Left Coast’s peculiar brand of identity politics.

Nevertheless, California’s anti-Trump fervor this year was largely a symbolic sideshow, a sad display of impotence by legislators who are used to wielding power without any meaningful checks and balances. As I’ve written many times, the California Republican Party has little clout and is eager to win plaudits from the majority party. They couldn’t stop a gas-tax increase in April, and eight Republicans joined Democrats in extending the cap-and-trade system — even though analysts predict the extension will add 63 cents to a gallon of gasoline by 2021.

With their supermajorities in place, California Democrats can now increase taxes at will. They did so with the above-mentioned transportation measures. They also passed a housing package that will raise real-estate fees, place a $3 billion housing bond on the November 2018 ballot and expand union “prevailing wage” requirements to high-density housing projects, all in exchange for a few reforms that streamline the byzantine approval process. Legislators caused the current housing crisis with their endless no-growth rules, yet they view government-subsidized projects as the solution.

Legislators also OK’d a bill to expand the family leave law to employers with as few as 20 workers, as if there’s no cost to forcing small companies to grant their employees 12 weeks of unpaid job-protected leave. They passed a law requiring school districts and charter schools to provide six weeks of fully paid leave to employees for pregnancy, childbirth, and miscarriage, which will only eat away at school funding and create new pressure for tax hikes and bonds.

Lawmakers passed a measure forbidding employers from asking about an applicant’s criminal record until the employer makes a conditional employment offer. I can imagine the lawsuits that will follow if, say, someone is given a job offer and then has it rescinded after revealing that triple-homicide conviction or long history of credit-card fraud.

Another bill forbids employers from asking for salary history, under the dubious assumption that women are disadvantaged by being asked to state their current earnings. Indeed, gender issues took up a lot of time this year. Those of you moving to California will, if the governor gives his OK, no longer have to choose between male and female on your driver’s license. There’s now a new “non-binary” category — a modest change that legislators touted as a major civil-rights victory.

Unions secured passage of two bills that allow them to glean the names and personal information of workers in two private-sector industries (in-home care services and meal-delivery services) so they can use that information for organizing purposes. California’s leaders feign concern about privacy — but that doesn’t apply if you’re a nonunion worker, who may soon have to deal with union toughs showing up at the doorstep or calling on the cell.

The Legislature also passed a bill requiring all large employers to report gender and salary data for men and women who perform “substantially similar” work. The information will be published on a publicly accessible website. This bill, the California Chamber of Commerce points out, will lead to “public shaming of employers.” It no doubt will lead to myriad class-action lawsuits, as well, as bean counters use the information to find actionable disparities.

Not every crazy idea passed. Some failed proposals include an ill-defined single-payer health-care system that would have consumed the entire state budget. It passed the full Senate even after the budget-busting predictions were publicized, but was halted by the Assembly speaker, a leftist who nevertheless behaves like the last adult in Sacramento. The Legislature also shelved a bill that would have raised the state’s income tax to a whopping 14.3 percent. There were many other proposed tax increases that are likely to come back next year.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Census Bureau recently released the latest poverty statistics, which show that one in five Californians lives below the poverty line, when examined using the bureau’s supplemental poverty measure that accounts for welfare payments and cost of living. Truth in Accounting this week released a report giving California an F grade for its finances, given $255 billion in unfunded liabilities for public-employee pensions and retiree medical care. Those numbers don’t even include the larger debts at the local level. Do you think the Legislature tried to address those issues? You know the answer.

The latest legislative session offers deep insight into the liberal hothouse that operates underneath Sacramento’s Capitol dome. Most of its efforts operate from these fundamental perspectives: Taxes are the solution to every problem. Private businesses are exploitative and need to be controlled and punished. Hot-button social issues are far more important than basic fiscal or infrastructure matters. Donald Trump is the greatest threat to the state.

It’s no wonder more middle-class Californians are taking sanctuary in Nevada, Arizona, and Texas.

Steven Greenhut
Steven Greenhut
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Steven Greenhut is a senior fellow and Western region director for the R Street Institute. Write to him at sgreenhut@rstreet.org.
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