Cross posted on CalWatchdog

During Gov. Jerry Brown’s first year in office, business interests were able to kill so many bills they came out ahead, a recent news story reported.

Is that so?

Just how well are California businesses doing right now

The story claimed, “Legislative data shows business interests wielded strong influence despite a Capitol dominated by Democrats in the Legislature and governor’s office. Business lobbyists defeated bills that would have cut back various tax breaks, required employers to give workers unpaid bereavement leave and prolonged the foreclosure process.”

What the story did not address is that the legislative data for the 906 bills the authors studied is not just dominated by the Democratic Party, it is written by Democrats’ committee staffers. Given that the Democrats are in control of every state legislative committee, and hire the committee staff, every analysis that comes out of legislative committees is controlled by the party in charge.

“Business interests were the top bill-killers inside California’s Capitol during Gov. Jerry Brown’s first year back in office, as concerns about the state’s weak economy cut into labor’s newfound clout,” the story reported.

However, the bill analysis process is far more complicated according to some who work inside the Capitol. In the Assembly, once the legislative committee staff write the original bill analysis, it is then kicked upstairs to the Assembly Speaker’s assigned staff, who work the analysis over even more, before the analysis can be published.

The Senate uses mid-range staffers to prepare the floor analyses that is the public record, but those analyses contain mostly versions of the policy committee analysis for that bill.

Some say that this is obviously done for legal reasons. But it is also done using senior caucus staff oversight, to control the message.

The party in power has the ultimate say over bill analyses.

“But in the tug-of-war between the Capitol’s two power players, industry more than held its own. Business-related groups dominated the list of organizations with the most influence, according to a review of hundreds of bills,” the story reported. “Labor lobbyists, meanwhile, said they were more selective than usual in advancing bills that would cost money and put lawmakers in an unpleasant political situation.”

It’s easy to be selective about which bills to spend lobbying time and money on when most of the  legislators and staff are on your side.

The story concluded that money spent doesn’t necessarily buy influence. “But the spending didn’t always guarantee victory in 2011. The California Manufacturers and Technology Association spent $1.9 million while winning half its legislative battles.”

But the story did not specify what that $1.9 million included — that could be all or part of the total budget for CMTA, including lobbying, office and administrative staff expenses and the marketing budget. Since the CMTA has only four lobbyists and a small staff, it is hardly the big corporate gorilla influencing legislators and killing anti-business bills.

However, the story did specify only the lobbying costs for the liberal ACLU and Sierra Club: “The American Civil Liberties Union and Sierra Club, meanwhile, each spent less than $350,000 on lobbyists during the first nine months of the year, yet did well in a Legislature in which majority Democrats are sympathetic to their causes.”

This was not an apples-to-apples comparison since one can reasonably assume that the ACLU and Sierra Club have offices and multiple staff members in Sacramento as well.

What did not make the story was the large amount of economy-building “support” bills that failed in their first policy committee.  Last year, there were at least five different sales tax exemption bills that didn’t even make it out of the first committee, killed by Democratic legislators. Since nearly all other states have sales tax exemptions, California manufacturers and businesses are rendered non-competitive just within the U.S.

How many other business-related bills were killed in the first committee hearing, or didn’t even receive a committee assignment? I know of many.

Business Influence In CA

Of the more than 800 bills signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, there were very few signed of any positive consequence to California businesses.

The most important point is that there shouldn’t be so many bad bills to fight and kill. It’s as if the Democratic strategy is to introduce the thousands of bad bills every year in an effort to keep the business lobby so busy that it could not possibly keep up with fighting the Democratic-favored, special-interest bills.

California is not a business-friendly state, nor is the business lobby succeeding in this weak economy. Businesses have closed or moved out-of-state in record numbers in the last few years. That’s a fact.