Unhappy Californians Still Embrace the Failed Status Quo

High taxes and a union-dominated discourse won't fix the Golden State


California residents are depressed about the economy and see little hope for change in the near future, yet they seem more reluctant than ever to change the current high-tax, union-dominated political course that has led to the struggling economy.

As the Field Poll revealed in July, "Californians have had an extremely gloomy view of the state's economy since 2008 … . Currently nine out of ten residents … describe the state's economy as being in bad times." The data is a couple months old, but nothing suggests any drastic change since then.

Meanwhile, the latest polling for the two highest-profile ballot initiatives for November are good news for those who embrace the status quo. A new poll by the Public Policy Institute of California shows Gov. Jerry Brown's tax-hiking Proposition 30, which would temporarily increase sales taxes and income taxes on those earning more than $250,000 a year, ahead 52 percent to 40 percent. By the way, how often have you met a tax hike that actually goes away?

Furthermore, PPIC reports that voters have soured on perhaps the most significant statewide initiative on the statewide ballot, Proposition 32, a "paycheck protection" measure that is losing 49 percent to 42 percent. (Even though support for it is fading, PPIC found a solid majority of voters in favor of the goals of the initiative, which makes California voters even more perplexing.)

The proposition stops the state's politically dominant unions from using automatic payroll deductions to finance their political activities. The initiative has some other features, such as a bans on political payroll deductions from corporations, on direct giving to political candidates and on political donations from government contractors seeking favors.

But these other provisions are mostly pointless. Corporations do not use payroll deductions to fund political efforts. Following the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United decision in 2010, few corporations or unions give political contributions directly to candidates, preferring to use independent campaigns to help chosen candidates. Typical of all initiatives, Prop. 32 includes a few provisions that are meant more to sway voters than change policy.

Nevertheless, the core issue here—restricting those payroll deductions that are the foundation of union political power—is not just principled, but crucial if California voters are serious about moving the state away from its current political and economic trajectory.

No one should have their money taken by force and used for political purposes that often are at odds with one's beliefs. No one should have money deducted automatically from their paycheck and given to a private organization without one's consent. This is a freedom issue as well as a political-influence issue. The current situation is pure coercion.

Under Prop. 32, the unions can still deduct an agency fee to pay for collective-bargaining activities. Ironically, liberal groups are complaining that corporations and conservative donors are funding ads supporting Prop. 32 even as massive union spending, thanks to the current forced-donation situation that Prop. 32 addresses, is pounding the initiative with ads making dubious claims about exemptions for wealthy businesses.

States that have passed paycheck-protection-type laws have seen mixed results because of various loopholes and legal challenges, but there's little question that public- and private-sector union political influence has been reduced. A study by the conservative Heritage Foundation found that on average state laws that limit these political payroll reductions slash union political contributions in half. Unions are still able to raise plenty of money – but they have to ask for it rather than just take it.

One major California union called Prop. 32 "the Death Star for unions," which is an overstatement, but provides some insight into how concerned the unions are about this proposition.

Consider why it is on the Nov. 6 ballot. Last year, Brown signed a law requiring ballot initiatives to take place during the general election and not during lower-turnout primary elections. "Everyone knows that passing SB 202 was to diminish chances that voters would pass a so-called 'paycheck protection' measure that would eat into unions' ability to gather campaign funds from public employees—money that almost always goes to Democrats," opined Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters.

Brown was elected with strong support from unions and has governed in a way that usually puts their priorities first. The Democratic Party, which controls every statewide constitutional office and will could soon have two-thirds control of both houses of the Legislature, is always doing the bidding of the unions. If this doesn't change, it's hard to envision an optimistic future here.

Some Democrats understand how unions are destroying public services. Former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero of Los Angeles is a spokesperson for Prop. 32, because she—as a devoted education reformer—has watched the teachers' union squelch reform and turn California's public schools into bureaucratic nightmares.

"If we don't deal with how the beast is fed, and what maintains that, and what gives it status and opportunity to run roughshod over the educational lives and futures of six million kids in California, then shame on us," Romero told The Wall Street Journal's Allysia Finley.

Even the San Francisco Chronicle, which opposed Prop. 32 in an editorial, grasps the heart of the problem: "There is no question that organized labor has a powerful grip on the state Capitol, and that works against the public's interest on issues such as education reform, government efficiency and pension reform."

Then why not take serious steps to loosen that grip? If California voters reject Prop. 32 and support Prop. 30, the unions will maintain their financial control over the political process, and all Californians will pay more to prop up the current dysfunctional system. And, no doubt, the same California voters will continue to tell pollsters how unhappy they are with the current state of affairs.

NEXT: David Simon Accuses Reason of Producing a "Shanked" Interview With Him. Decide for Yourself.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Why would Californians be devoted one iota to fixing their state? It’s much easier to just leave for elsewhere and then spend the next 10-20 years implementing the same dysfunctional culture and mindset in their new states of residence.

    /Bitter Coloradoan.

    1. The disease has spread out of Boulder?

      1. Yep, it’s metastasized at this point.

        1. Yeah well,

          CA’s problems started when Northeast assholes started moving here in mass in the late 70s.

          So think of us as the first victims of the human locusts.

          I’m hoping that they’ll all move on and the rest of us can get back to sanity.

          1. Hear hear. I was born in California at just the right time to witness that plague of human locusts and see what it did to my State over the course of my entire life. Down through the years, so many have focused on the swarm of (“illegal”) immigration from the South. But the real damage was dealt by immigrants from the North and East. After I hope the multi-decade infection burns itself out soon. I view the “Real Californians” as those who, whether or not they were born here, view California as their PERMANENT home and are committed to sticking with it to make things better, rain or shine. The transients and failed transplants should move on and let the rest of us restore California to the state of health it enjoyed within living memory.

    2. Can we build a border fence?

      1. Can we build a border fence?

        As long as the Oskar Blue’s trucks can get through, certianly.

        1. This is an essential compromise. I need my Chubb and Gub’na.

    3. I agree, except replace ‘California’ with ‘Massachusetts’ and ‘Coloradoan’ with ‘New Hampshiran.’

      1. Except Californians have firmly established their clueless ideologies in WA, OR, NV, AZ,and UT, so the illness is much more widespread here.

        Thank goodness Wyoming is too windswept for them to settle anywhere other than around Jackson Hole.

    4. I just moved to Colorado from California. My hope is that Colorado sees how ridiculous California has become and avoids it. And there are fewer people here, so there’s a better chance of talking some sense into them.

  2. California U.S. residents are depressed about the economy and see little hope for change in the near future, yet they seem more reluctant than ever to change the current high-tax, union-dominated political course that has led to the struggling economy.

    It is not just the CA’ians who who cannot get past the status quo.

    Red Rocks Rockin, it is much easier to move to new areas after you have screwed up your own than it is to fix your own.

  3. I’ve played enough FONV to think the flag looks funny with only one head on the bear.

    Waxed the Legate this morning with a Big Boy nuke. Not so tough now, are you, funny mask man?

    Firing up Borderlands 2 this evening.

    1. “Waxed the Legate this morning… ”

      Is that what we’re calling it now?

      1. I’ve been calling it Big Boy Nuke for as long as I can remember. You?

    2. I just got to Sanctuary after killing Boom Bewm and Flynt. Flynt is tough, and don’t try using incendiaries on him as they do nothing. He’ll probably kill you and then you can sit on the ammo platform and grind him down. I will admit that Phaselocking proved somewhat useful with him.

  4. Fuck Michigan!
    /preemptive strike against almanian

  5. I really hope our state wakes the fuck up some day. I love everything else about it, weather, women, lifestyle, but the government tries really hard to cancel out all that with its shittiness. If you think about it, it’s pretty freaking hard to be so bad as to negate all the perks of California, but they’re almost there

    1. actually it’ll be fun to watch the collapse. It will only affect the state and state workers, the rest of us, it just doesn’t matter.

      1. I hope you’re right. The taxes and everything else here are outrageous enough, and they just might try to make it even worse to desperately try to raise enough money to pay for it all (which of course won’t work)

  6. California is the ultimate realization of the progressive dream. Embrace it, Democrats.

  7. Isn’t California and Detroit good rebuttals to the argument that Obama winning will destroy the system quicker (and not blamed on evil free marketeers) and will be better?

  8. We all do things that are against our own best interest but are too dense (or afflicted by hormones) to realize it at the time. Collectively we can also be real stupid and in CA the collective stupidity is like a cancer gradually destroying the prosperity I enjoyed there growing up.
    I recall a sales tax increase approved by the voters to give the state more money to deal with some disaster . . . earthquake or something . . . and sure as shit, when it came to expire the Governor asked the voters to make the “temporary” tax permanent . . . and THEY DID!
    There’s a reason the myth of the Phoenix came about . . .sometimes the only way to stop the plane from descent is to experience a crash.
    That is surely where they are headed. But don’t expect the deluded to understand that. Be prepared.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.