Dan Walters: Business Does Well in Capitol

By Dan Walters in The Sacramento Bee

The Capitol’s longest running conflict, as often noted in this space, pits business and employer groups against labor unions, environmentalists, consumer advocates and personal injury attorneys.

Each year, the latter four introduce their agendas in a Legislature dominated by Democrats, and the former gear up to thwart those agendas.

The California Chamber of Commerce takes the lead by drawing up an annul list of bills it considers to be the most onerous, labeling them “job killers.” Not surprisingly, they tend to be the most important measures of the four liberal groups.

Nineteen bills found their way onto this year’s list, and when the dust had settled, just one had been signed into law, Assembly Bill 359 by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, dealing with retention of workers when grocery stores are sold.

A couple of others were vetoed, a couple were signed after being softened and losing their “job killer” epithets, and the remainder died in the Legislature, mostly without formal floor votes.

The latter is important, because bills that die without votes are not reflected in the legislative voting scorecards that the chamber, other business groups and their rivals routinely publish during the post-session season.

The chamber published its scorecard this month, revealing how legislators voted on 15 bills, only five of which were designated “job killers.” And it underscored the rather deep ideological division between the two legislative houses.

The Senate is clearly the more liberal of the two, routinely passing business-opposed bills, although three Democratic senators, Steve Glazer, Richard Roth and Cathleen Galgiani, voted with the chamber more often than not.

However, 10 Assembly Democrats had pro-chamber voting records, identifying them as core members of a moderate bloc that emerged this year. Ten others voted with the chamber about half the time.

As mentioned earlier, these voting tallies don’t count the major liberal bills, including several tax increases, that died without formal floor votes, so if anything the scorecard understates the division between the houses.

What happened – or in many cases, didn’t happen – in the Capitol this year resulted from a concerted effort by the chamber’s political campaign arm and other business groups to cultivate business-friendly Democrats in the past two election cycles, using the “top-two” primary system to their advantage.

It also explains why business groups have discouraged Kristin Olsen, the Assembly’s outgoing Republican leader, from challenging Galgiani for re-election to the Senate next year.

Finally, modified term limits allow members to remain in one house for up to 12 years, meaning less turnover. Thus, the Assembly’s business-friendly ambiance is likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future.

That bodes ill for the agendas of the four liberal groups and makes it easier for business groups to prevail in the perpetual war.

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