Because of Proposition 13, the unions representing California’s government employees — employees that are the highest paid in all 50 states according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics — have a huge stake in who is elected to the state Legislature.
While most Californians are aware that Proposition 13 limits increases in property taxes — they can be increased by 2 percent annually — they are less familiar with the requirement that new or increased state taxes receive a two-thirds vote of each house of the Legislature. Proposition 13 authors Howard Jarvis and Paul Gann included this provision because they feared that if they were successful in saving taxpayers money, lawmakers, no doubt with union support, would turn around and attempt to increase the tax burden in other areas.
So the government employee unions are constantly working hard to increase their support in the legislature, with the goal of achieving a super-majority of compliant lawmakers to increase taxes and make even more money available for payroll. This explains why the government unions have been making all-out efforts in special elections that are often overlooked by the general public.
For example, government union leaders have ramped up their efforts to influence the outcome in the upcoming May 17th special election for a vacant senate seat in the Bay Area. Although the race is between two Democrats, they fear the election of Orinda Mayor Steve Glazer, a self-described fiscal conservative and social progressive. His experience in city government has taught him the importance of responsible budgeting, and this, to the unions, is intolerable. To assure his defeat and the election of union compliant Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, they are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars of union dues to finance a mailing from a group calling itself “Working families Opposing Glazer for Senate.”
The problem is that the unions apparently do not want those who receive the mailing to know who is paying for it. State law requires that the top two contributors of more than $50,000 be listed on the mailer, but the names of the State Council of Service Employees, which gave $185,000, and the California School Employees Association, which gave $75,000 are nowhere to be found. Glazer has filed a complaint with the Fair Political Practices Commission, but more voters will see the misleading mailers than are likely to hear of a FPPC decision, and the damage is done.
Government employee unions being shy about public exposure is not unusual. Unions back a number of organizations that at first glance appear to be looking after taxpayers’ interests. In San Diego, they have set up the Middle Class Taxpayers Association that has opposed pension reform.
And, of course, there is the California Tax Reform Association, whose president, a former ’60s Berkeley radical, is dedicated to the overturning of Proposition 13’s taxpayer protections. The group’s funding and board of directors come primarily from the government employee unions.
So when a group whose name makes it sound like a pro-taxpayer organization, or that it is representing average working folks, pushes policies that would raise taxes and the cost of government, it would be wise to look carefully for the union label.
Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’s rights.