California Unions Uber Alles?

In the media coverage of the presidential election, one state that is unlikely to get much attention is California, which appears to be solidly in President Obama’s column. Yet that doesn’t mean that Golden State voters don’t face some important decisions on November 6. Two very different ballot measures will help determine the trajectory of government growth in California — and given California’s size and influence, potentially throughout the nation.

The opposing measures would either curb or bolster the political influence of California’s government employee unions, one of the state’s most powerful interests — which, like government unions elsewhere, constitute a permanent lobby for bigger government. As Manhattan Institute Senior Fellow Daniel DiSalvo notes in a new analysis of the measures and the current California political landscape, “California reformers face an outsize challenge. The state’s public-sector unions are among the most powerful in the country, and 57 percent of state and local workers belong to unions.”

Proposition 30, supported by Governor Jerry Brown (D) and several public sector unions, would increase the state’s sales tax, from 7.25 percent to 7.5 percent, and the state income tax, by a percentage point or more, for all incomes above $250,000. For the public employee unions, the benefit of this measure is clear: More money to pay their members. For Governor Brown, it gains him the unions’ support — at least for now. (Proposition 38, an even bigger tax hike, is also on the ballot, though its chances look slim.)

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