Today's lengthy debate in the state Senate, both in public and in private, serves as a reminder of the complicated intersection of policy and politics, as a late vote switch by a Republican senator kept six new state worker contracts alive -- including the hotly debated new agreement for prison guards.
The contracts were the subject of a pretty tense debate and seemed all but dead, until a late afternoon switch by Sen. Anthony Cannella (R-Ceres) sent them to the Assembly for consideration.
While the legislation, SB 151, contains the new contracts for six bargaining units and modifications of contracts for others, the marquee deal was a new contract for members of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association.
And with good reason. The CCPOA not only had been sitting on an expired contract for years (after multiple battles with Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger), but the guards union is a major power in California politics.
Since January 2010, state records show the CCPOA has spent some $650,000 on lobbying the Legislature. Then there's campaign cash; in last year's election cycle, the union spent almost $7 million from its various political committees, donating generously to candidates on both sides of the aisle and spending almost $2 million of that amount on helping Governor Jerry Brown.
One of the most notable CCPOA political cash moves last year was a large independent expenditure against Sen. Cannella's Democratic opponent.
Cannella, whose vote change followed a lengthy recess and chats off the Senate floor, released a statement saying, in part:
"The contracts ratified today were negotiated at the bargaining table, and they do represent concessions from the unions involved and significant savings to the state... Today, I received assurances from public-employee union leaders that they will engage in an earnest conversation about real pension reform."
Of course, today's vote proved that the guards' political endorsements don't actually guarantee votes for their point of view. Several Republicans supported by the CCPOA came out against the deal, with two of the most notable being Senate GOP leader Bob Dutton (R-Rancho Cucamonga) and Sen. Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar).
Dutton set the tone for the contract debate in the Senate this afternoon, by saying in his floor speech that the deals (collectively) were "not ready," that there was no "pension reform" in them, and that the contracts fail to save enough money. That last point is based on the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office report that the six contracts will cost $306 million more than Governor Brown projected they would in his January budget.
(Brown's response a couple of weeks ago was that his estimate shouldn't have been taken literally.)
The Senate Republican leader's vote, ostensibly against the wishes of the correctional officers, comes after he was accused last October (with others) by Schwarzenegger for being too indebted to them when it came to not voting for a major pension modification bill opposed by the CCPOA.
That bit of history was referenced by Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg in his floor speech in favor of the contracts.
"This is now your second opportunity to vote for pension reform in the last seven months," he said. "Where is the commitment to actually reform something?"
Meantime, Republican Huff attempted to draw the line back to the Guv's plan for an $11 billion extension of income, sales, and vehicle taxes. "You're saying you have to have new revenues to cover this agreement," said Huff in comments directed at Dems. (It should be pointed out that his assertion is only, at best, true in the macro view of government expenditures and revenues.)
It's possible the Assembly could take the contract ratification bill up in a matter of days. And again, while several worker bargaining groups are depending on the bill, it'll be the CCPOA that gets the attention -- especially given the union contributed money, too, in 2010 to a bipartisan group of sitting assemblymembers.