California residents should hold on to their wallets. On Monday, the state legislature headed back to the Capitol for the new session. Legislators' short stint at the Capitol in December offered a preview of what's coming down the pike, and some of it reinforces Judge Gideon Tucker's famous quip: "No man's life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session."
Expect another big push for a minimum-wage hike. In 2013, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law that pushed California's minimum wage to $9 an hour last July — and $10 an hour this year. Business groups stopped a cost-of-living-adjustment from being built into the increases, but that was then and this is now.
Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, is pushing another increase — to $11 an hour in 2016 and $13 an hour in 2017. This new measure would also automatically adjust the wage rate to the rate of inflation, so expect another battle. (San Diego's measure to raise the wage to $11.50 by 2017 — plus mandating five annual sick days for full-timers — has been placed on the June 2016 ballot by opponents, but would be partially moot if this new state hike passes.)
We'll see if anyone in the Capitol successfully raises this question: If raising wages this way creates wealth, rather than simply forcing businesses to cut back in other areas, then why not raise the wage rate to a much-heftier level?
San Diego Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez's latest idea is to force retailers to pay their workers double time on Thanksgiving and Christmas even though most stores already pay much-higher wages for holiday work. Retailers, she said in November, are "making staggering profits. They're making money off the people forced to come to work on holidays."
Well, yes. That is how our economic system works. People get paid to help companies make money providing goods and services that consumers want and need. Gonzalez said she'd really like California to emulate the three states that force businesses to remain closed on the holidays. But wouldn't that mean much-less money for the workers she is trying to help?
If this bill passes, expect future proposals to expand the covered holidays. It's common to get something passed and then expand its provisions. As the Sacramento Bee reported, Gonzalez has introduced a bill for the new session that offers "paid sick days to home health care workers who were exempted from landmark legislation last year giving all other Californians paid sick leave."
Another new bill, SB 4, "would declare the intent of the Legislature all Californians, regardless of immigration status, have access to affordable health coverage and care."
On a less-costly note, AB 30 would force four California public schools to ditch the "Redskins" mascot on their athletic teams unless a nearby tribe gives its approval. But even such a simple-seeming edict can be complicated. "A public school may continue to use uniforms or other materials bearing the term Redskins as a school or athletic team name, mascot, or nickname that were purchased before January 1, 2017 …." But most of the new gear has to have a different mascot — which might create an odd mish-mash of uniforms.
Another new bill would ban schools and parks from installing new artificial-turf ball fields made from recycled tires until the state studies potential ill health effects from them. It seems like yesterday governments were insisting that these were the new "environmentally friendly" playgrounds.
Republicans have introduced a bill that would remove oil-and-gas companies from the state's anti-global-warming cap-and-trade system — a measure that's unlikely to get traction despite the GOP's legislative gains in November.
In recent months, watchdogs have detailed a number of looming fiscal problems, ranging from soaring liabilities for the state's retiree health-care system to shortfalls for the state's pension plans. Gov. Jerry Brown has promised to deal with some of these matters in his budget, which will be released by January 10. But the initial flurry of proposals is lacking on the government-reform front. It's easier to create new programs than fix old ones.
Could that be why the latest Gallup Poll found the public's top concern of last year to be "poor government leadership."?