Our View: Don't make contract workers wear 'not government employee' signs

July 21, 2013 

State legislators are on a summer recess until Aug. 12. Once they return, they will have until Sept. 13 to pass bills this session. Today we comment on three proposals:

A bill only public employee unions can love

Senate Bill 556 is another sad example of how Democrats in Sacramento can't say no to their main benefactor, public employee unions. This bill is costly, unnecessary and meddlesome — a legislative solution in search of a problem.

Sponsored by Sen. Ellen Corbett of San Leandro, SB 556 would require contract employees working for state or local governments to affix notices to their uniforms or vehicles that identify them as "not a government employee." According to the Assembly Judiciary Committee analysis, Corbett thinks "this bill is needed to ensure that members of the public can visually distinguish between government employees and nongovernment employees who are increasingly subcontracted to perform services once exclusively the domain of true public employees."

We would be curious to know which citizens are clamoring for more signs in their lives so they can distinguish between contractors and true public employees.

We think the real intent of her bill is clear and simple: To stigmatize private contractors with a scarlet letter.

The apparent intent is to make it more difficult for local governments to contract for services, even when it saves them money and improves efficiencies.

This bill would create a negative perception about employees — many of them union — who happen to work for governments but are not government employees. The bill contains specific requirements for how agencies would have to add notices to district vehicles and uniforms of nongovernment employees, even down to the type size they would have to use.

Despite opposition from the League of California Cities, California State Association of Counties, California Special Districts Association and a host of other local government organizations, the Corbett bill zipped out of the Senate on a largely party-line vote. We're disappointed to see that Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, voted for it. The two Republican senators from our region, Tom Berryhill and Anthony Cannella, both voted "no."

SB 556 again raises the disturbing question: Just how far are Democrats willing to go to stay in the good graces of public employee unions?

Simple safety proposal goes nowhere

Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, got nowhere with her proposal that would have equipped classrooms and other school facilities with panic buttons directly linked to a law enforcement dispatch center and sounding to alert others on campus. AB 1076 was killed by Democrats on the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

Olsen was, understandably, annoyed, writing in a press release: "It is asinine to me that something so straightforward that has zero fiscal impact on the state, but has the ability to increase the safety of our children on school campuses would be held back and killed," said Olsen. "We had the opportunity to help minimize violent tragedies at schools, and the committee refused to let the bill through to the Assembly floor. It's unbelievable."

Bill would limit high-priced school bonds

Faring much better is a bill that would limit school districts' use of the high-priced capital appreciation bonds, which often end up with longer and much higher payoff cots for taxpayers. We've reported on capital appreciation bonds in The Bee over recent months. Poway, in San Diego County, is the poster child for what's wrong with these bonds. It borrowed $105 million in 2011; paying off those bonds will eventually cost district payers almost $1 billion.

Here in Stanislaus County, Patterson offers the worst example of an expensive capital appreciation bond. In 2008, Patterson voters approved a $50 million bond measure to pay for a new elementary school and other projects. After selling only $16.1 million of the total amount authorized, the school board had put district property owners in debt to the tune of $119.7 million — more than seven times the principal. Taxpayers will be paying more until those bonds are paid off in 2049.

While we generally believe that the Legislature meddles too much in local decision making, there are so many bad examples with capital appreciation bonds that it makes sense for the state to impose some restraints. AB 182 unanimously passed the Assembly and its first Senate committees. It should be approved by the Senate and signed into law by the governor.

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