Stealth laws: Disgraceful but legal
When legislators pass laws in the dead of night, without so much as a press release to warn anyone about what's coming, they can do a lot harm.
And yet, so-called "stealth" laws passed quickly before anyone has an opportunity to object, get through every year, often on the last day of a legislative session when provisions unrelated to the stated purpose of a bill can be inserted and passed. It also occurs almost every year on the night lawmakers pass the annual budget, almost always in the early morning hours when virtually no one is looking.
Assembly Bill 114, pushed through as one of more than a dozen "trailer" laws that enabled this year's rare on-time budget, was nothing more than a bow by Democratic politicians to the California Teachers Association, the union that gives them the most support?
This measure prohibits the layoff of anymore school teachers during the coming year. That means even if a shortfall in state revenues occurs at mid-year, and school budgets are reduced drastically again, teaching staff still can't be laid off.
Yes, schools can cut time off the academic year if tax dollars fall short of budgetary assumptions. But this law requires that even those reductions not happen unless union locals agree to them.
How likely is that? So schools could go broke because of their very limited options for handling shortfalls, a situation that would not have passed muster with public opinion had this law gotten open hearings.
Then there was Senate Bill 89, another stealth budget trailer passed just hours before the final financial vote. This one eliminates $130 million in vehicle license fee pass-throughs from the state to local governments.
Two-thirds of that money in the last fiscal year went to pay for core police and fire services.
About $87 million will be cut from police and fire and another $43 million from other local services under this secret law and a smaller companion measure.
This will hit hardest at newly incorporated cities, which have little or no reserves and depended on that money for some of their most basic functions. In Riverside County, officials say four cities established in the last five years - Jurupa Valley, Eastvale, Wildomar and Menifee - could be forced to disincorporate. Without a fix, at the very least these new municipalities will have to lay off scores of employees, including everything from building inspectors to city clerks.
Gov. Jerry Brown said he had no idea the measure would have the heaviest impact in the Republican area that elected his most determined opponents in this year's budget battle, but some in Riverside County suspect the measure was designed chiefly as political payback.
Again, it's virtually certain this measure would not have passed had it seen any daylight before sneaking through the Legislature. It's unfair, unseemly and irresponsible for the majority to use its sheer numbers to make decisions which so plainly smack of machine politics.