Advancing a Free Society

The Nanny State Indeed

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

In the closing moments of this year’s legislative session in Sacramento, a school of thought emerged that Democrats were morphing into business-friendly Republicans – a strange development, given that the all-powerful Democratic majority historically has shown California’s business sector the same kind of love shared by Charlie Sheen and CBS executives.

Here’s the Los Angeles Times’ explanation:

The Legislature the Democrats dominate passed bills that would ease environmental rules on some developers and order bureaucrats to be more business-friendly. And after battling for months to raise taxes, Democrats championed tax cuts for small companies.

Some of the moves were incremental, and business won, as usual, far fewer victories than Democrats' traditional labor allies. But the pro-business gestures abruptly scrambled the political dynamics in the state.

So why the perceived shift?

Part of it has to do with California Gov. Jerry Brown, who takes pride in a nonconformist identity that’s sometimes at odds with his own party’s interests – i.e., he’s not a rubberstamp for the liberal agenda, or a shill for Big Labor. Still, the governor’s a riddle.

So far, Brown’s vetoed one measure requiring kids to wear helmets when skiing or snowboarding, and another bill that would have increased the fine for using a cellphone or texting while driving. Too overbearing, too expensive, he argued, to conservatives’ delight.

Then again, predicting the governor’s vetoes is an inexact science (Brown’s veto rate was less than 5% during his previous gubernatorial stint, from 1975-83). How Brown will come down on this year’s union-friendly legislation, for example, is a favorite Sacramento guessing game.

Another motivator for Sacramento politicians: jump-starting California’s stubborn economy (unemployment in the Golden State ticking up to 12% in July, three points above the national average).

But unfortunately, when it comes to jobs, Sacramento Democrats take a Rahm Emmanuel approach – they won’t let a serious crisis go to waste.

Make that: political waste.

And that brings us to California’s Assembly Bill 101, which lies at the intersection of political cow-towing and irresponsible government.

Sponsored by the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees and the Service Employees International Union, AB 101 would enable unions to organize up to 100,000 Californians who receive state funds to provide childcare in their homes.

AB 101 doesn’t allow child care providers to unionize against their ”employers.”  However, it allows child-care providers to unionize in order to bargain against the State of California (making this the first time the state’s Public Employment Relations Board would have jurisdiction over private-sector workers). That would include payment procedures for child-care subsidy programs and reimbursement rates for providers participating in a child-care subsidy program.

The politics of the matter?

Brown’s Republican predecessor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, rejected the idea on three separate occasions. This time, it was bull-rushed through the final days of the legislative session by Assembly Speaker John Perez, who cut his teeth in the Los Angeles labor movement.

But is it the responsible thing to do at a time when California is budget strapped?

The answer, it would seem: no.

Unionized child-care workers inevitably will push for higher state subsidies, which means more state spending (a Democratic analysis from back in 2007 put the coast at $60 million annually) – spending coming out of the greater social-services pie.

Child-care providers who don’t want to pay union dues might take a pass on tending to state-subsidized tikes. And there’s another possible side effect: the more the state pays for subsidized child care; the higher the price in the nonsubsidized private sector.

It’s not the only “nanny” bill that made the rounds in Sacramento this year. AB 889, incredibly enough, required parents who hired a babysitter to be legally obligated to pay non-family members at least minimum wage and provide a substitute caregiver every two hours to cover rest and meal breaks, plus workers’ comp coverage, overtime and a calculated timecard/paycheck.

That’s taking the concept of “nanny government” to an absurd high.

Just as unionizing nannies would take America’s nation-state to another low.