CMA Capitol Insight: April 26, 2016

April 26, 2016
Area(s) of Interest: Access to Care Advocacy 

CMA Capitol Insight is a biweekly column by veteran journalist Anthony York, reporting on the inner workings of the state Legislature.

The Legislative Scramble

Last week was a frantic one inside the Capitol as lawmakers faced a key deadline to pass bills out of policy committee. Measures that did not receive committee approval last week were shelved for the year. A number of major proposals lived to fight another day, but many efforts were left on the prominent pile of abandoned bill ideas that accumulates each and every year.

Among those bills that were put on hold for the year was a measure by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez to find new ways to help gig workers strengthen their collective voice in dealing with management. As income inequality has increased across the nation, there has been a simultaneous reduction in union representation – a fact that many union proponents say has been a contributing factor to the gap between the haves and have-nots.

Gonzalez is one of a growing group of Democrats looking for new ways to give workers a voice in our changing economy. Unions have had their own problems over the last several decades, and Gonzalez’s bill was an effort to allow contract workers to bargain collectively, if not necessarily through a formal union. The measure had opponents on the right and the left, with many in organized labor raising concerns about the limits and structures of this new gig-worker representation. While the bill has failed for the year, the concept is sure to be one that lawmakers will be forced to wrestle with as they continue to try to find ways to tweak public policy to stem some of the troubling workplace trends of the last four decades.

The winnowing of the legislative agenda also included the end of efforts to impose new taxes on soda and other sweetened beverages. The effort by Santa Monica Assemblyman Richard Bloom was shelved after failing to generate support in the lower house. The end of the soda-tax campaign marks the latest setback for the statewide and national efforts to impose soda taxes. While some localities in California (most notably Berkeley) have passed local levies on sugary drinks, the effort has yet to gain traction statewide. This year’s defeat begs the question of when, if ever, the legislative effort to tax soda may gain critical mass.

Perhaps a budget slowdown will give the soda tax – and other taxes – the momentum they need.  The tax haul from April is typically crucial in the state budgeting process, and data from the state controller’s office shows that  income tax revenues – which account for two-thirds of all general fund revenues – are about $3 billion lower than the forecast in Gov. Jerry Brown’s January budget. If those numbers don’t improve, it could have dire consequences for everything from Medi-Cal spending to other state services. We’ll be watching as the governor’s May Revision approaches…

But supporters of additional revenues did get some good news last week. A survey from the Public Policy Institute of California shows  62 percent of likely voters say they are in favor of extending the higher income taxes for upper earners.

In 2012, when Prop. 30 was on the ballot, there was no real concerted effort to combat the income tax hike. With these strong poll numbers, and the higher tax rates already in place, it seems increasingly less likely that there will be well-funded opposition against the measure.

What remains unclear is the role of the governor in this campaign. When Brown pushed for higher taxes in 2012, he was the spokesman and champion of the effort to get it passed. But he also promised voters the tax was temporary, and he has been lukewarm, at best, about the prospects of an extension. We’ll see if the slow income tax numbers change his tune.

Over the next couple of weeks, we expect ballot-measure proponents to begin submitting signatures to county elections offices as the race for the November ballot enters its final phase. Next time, we’ll have a more in-depth budget preview and a look ahead at how the November ballot is taking shape.


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