The Golden State isn’t exactly the gold standard of fiscal policy. California consistently ranks at or near the top of U.S. states with highest costs of living, highest tax burdens, and highest levels of government spending.
So, what are our leaders doing about it? Are they moving to put the state’s finances back in shape and ease the pressure on our citizens? In short, no. Just this year, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget called for a “blizzard of new spending” according to the New York Times. In the General Assembly, lawmakers have called for as much as $15 billion in new tax increases.
This has serious implications for our state’s overall health. According to one study, the expense of living in California is pushing many people to leave the state entirely, particularly those people on the lower end of the pay scale.
Simply put, the state needs to cut spending and use the savings to ease the tax burden of its citizens. There are many areas where cuts are necessary, some of which, I admit, will be a contentious fight. However, there’s one area where lawmakers could cut spending that I think poses a good start for finding common ground: the Agricultural Labor Relations Board (ALRB).
Founded in 1975, the five-member ALRB was created to enforce and oversee the California Agricultural Labor Relations Act which granted collective bargaining rights to farmworkers. Unfortunately, the board has grown over the last forty years into a bloated, corrupted, and inefficient agency that’s proving to be a drag on the state’s finances.
Between 2010 and 2016, the ALRB’s budget nearly doubled to over $9 million dollars. Just this year, the ALRB requested an additional $833,000 for its budget, claiming it needed the money for more staff hires and to keep up with a greater caseload. According to ALRB, they expect 125 cases this year, which is odd considering they only had 46 in the last half of last year and just five in the first half.
What’s even more concerning about the ALRB is what they’ve spent that money on: trampling the rights of the very farmworkers they are supposed to help.
This was on display in the recent Gerawan Farming incident. In that case, farmworkers overwhelmingly voted to leave the United Farm Workers after the union tried to force them into a contract they never voted on and which would have lowered their take-home pay (this, after the union had abandoned all contact with the workers for two decades).
However, the ALRB decided to side with the union, and spent five years trying to block that vote from being honored, before courts ordered the votes to be counted. The price tag on this effort to silence farmworker votes? Over $10 million in taxpayer dollars total.
This outrageous event highlights the need to trim and overhaul the ALRB. The agency should never have had the power, or money, to silence farmworkers. And they shouldn’t have it going forward.
In fact, the ALRB’s own former chairman, William Gould, called out the agency for its problems. In an angry letter of resignation, Gould noted that the agency was ineffective and mostly unnecessary, especially considering some 99% of farmworkers aren’t even in unions.
Simply put, the ALRB is a massive waste of taxpayer money. California needs to trim state spending so it can return some money back to its citizens through tax cuts. It should start by cutting from the wasteful, rights-trampling ALRB.