ONE DEGREE OF SEPARATION
It probably wasn't coincidence that progress on a workers' compensation compromise reform bill speeded up this month at about the same time that the California Teachers Association and children's advocated Rob Reiner announced that they were dropping their initiative that would have created a split-roll property tax that would have increased property taxes on commercial properties.
How could an initiative proposal to raise money for schools be connected to legislation to reform how injured workers are compensated for injuries on the job? Think about the cost of running initiative campaigns and who pays.
A week before the CTA dropped its initiative, I asked Art Azevedo, president of the California Applicants Attorneys Association, whether he was concerned about his side's ability to raise money to fight a workers' compensation initiative that had been threatened by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and his political allies if a legislative compromise hadn't been reaced by last Friday. After all, I noted, organized labor already has its plate full on the fall ballot, fighting a referendum that seeks to overturn the landmark, labor-sponsored law that would require large and mid-sized California businesses to provide health insurance to their workers. Would labor have enough left over to also fight a workers' comp initiative that it saw as hostile to injured workers?
"Labor's got some distractions," Azevedo responded. "But so does the other side... If you really want to talk about something that's going to cost businesses money, look at that split-roll initiative."
When the CTA took the split-roll initiative off the table, it freed up potentially millions of dollars in campaign contributions from businesses. Had the need arisen, that money could have been diverted to the campaign for a workers' comp initiative. In the end, Democratic lawmakers insisted that they weren't bullied by the threatened initiative and that it could have been defeated with an aggressive campaign. But even Senate President Pro Tem John Burton acknowledged that the odds of its passage were at least "6-to-5" in favor.
As it worked out, now both sides — business and labor — will be free to concentrate all their resources and political fire power on the referendum over mandated employer-provided health insurance. It could well be the most interesting political campaign of the fall in California.