Damage Delayed with Legislative Bills

Susan Shelley

Columnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”


Sometimes, California’s laws are like a guillotine on a timer.

By the time the blade drops, everybody who set it up has made a safe getaway.

To illustrate, consider four different laws that did their damage long after the perpetrators moved on, and a brand new one that’s likely to raise rents and perhaps tax Californians right out of their own homes.

In 1999, the Legislature passed and Gov. Gray Davis signed Senate Bill 400, which increased the pensions of state workers, even those already retired. At the time, everyone was told it would cost taxpayers nothing because the pension fund’s investment returns would easily pay for the higher benefits.

Then the blade dropped. In 2016, the tab for state employee pensions was $5.4 billion, more than 30 times what the state was paying before SB400 took effect. Today the state faces crushing pension debt that’s deep into the hundreds of billions of dollars.

In 2006, the Legislature passed and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Assembly Bill 32, which included a requirement to lower the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. Regulators had the idea to raise money by auctioning permits to emit greenhouse gases as part of a “cap and trade” program. The new expense for manufacturers, utilities, refineries and truckers was passed through to consumers, who today pay $1 per gallon more for gasoline than the national average, 30 percent higher electricity rates, and don’t even ask about the price of tomatoes.

In 2008, the Legislature passed and Gov. Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 375, which was intended to reduce “sprawl” and “vehicle miles traveled.” This law made it more difficult and expensive to build new housing in outlying areas. In 2016, California lagged behind 28 other states in new housing creation, while rents have been bid up by the surge of people who, under different government policies, might be homeowners in new communities.

In 2011, California lawmakers cut the reimbursement rate that the state pays doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients, but that didn’t stop them from expanding the Medi-Cal program under the Affordable Care Act. In the last four years, about 4.5 million Californians were added to the rolls of the safety-net health insurance that’s called Medicaid in the rest of the country. There are now about 13.5 million people on Medi-Cal, one-third of the state’s population.

But there was no corresponding increase in doctors who accept Medi-Cal, and the number of emergency room visits has gone up, not down, as more people became insured. A lawsuit just filed against the state charges that the shortage of providers is discriminatory against Latinos, who are now the majority of Medi-Cal enrollees, according to the suit. The newly formed California Future Health Workforce Commission says that by 2025, the state will have 4,700 fewer primary care doctors than needed.

The latest guillotine-on-a-timer is SB231, by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, which passed the Assembly on Aug. 31 by one vote. It redefines “sewer” to include stormwater, “correcting” a 2002 court ruling that said local governments can’t impose taxes or fees for stormwater projects without voter approval. Now they can, according to the bill. It will be easy to add huge new annual fees to property tax bills, and rents will go up, too.

SB231 now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature.

By the time the blade cuts your throat, he’ll be out of there.

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