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California Gov. Jerry Brown
Associated Press/Photo by Eric Risberg
California Gov. Jerry Brown

California unions unite over two prominent state ballot initiatives

Politics

ORANGE COUNTY, Calif.—Labor groups in California scored two Election Day victories on prominent ballot initiatives that pitted unions against their counterparts. A coalition of groups joined forces to campaign for and against Proposition 30 and 32—measures that would increase taxes and stop union contributions to political candidates. With millions in the campaign coffers on both sides of these issues, voters received a flood of fliers and robocalls from groups that found common cause.

California Gov. Jerry Brown crisscrossed the state during early November, touting his solution to the state’s massive budget crisis in the form of Proposition 30. The measure would raise California’s sales tax—already the highest in the nation—by a quarter percent for four years and increase income tax on wages over $250,000 for seven years. Brown labeled the initiative’s opponents as “the wealthy” and threatened $6 billion in cuts—primarily to public schools and universities—should the measure fail.

Opponents argued that the tax initiative does nothing to eliminate the Golden State’s wasteful spending and questioned whether the tax revenues would be spent wisely. With massive cuts in education at stake, California’s teachers unions and other labor groups rallied behind the governor and supplied the majority of the $40 million raised to support the initiative. The California Teachers Association (CTA)—the largest union in the state with 325,000 members—donated $8 million to Brown’s tax campaign. With 95 percent of precincts reporting, the measure passed with 54 percent of the vote total.

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The CTA may have coughed up more political dollars for Proposition 30 had it not been sidelined by a separate ballot initiative: Proposition 32. Drafted to curb the massive political influence of California unions, the measure would prohibit all corporation and union donations to candidates and end payroll deduction by unions for political purposes without consent. The “Yes on 32” campaign said “small business owners, farmers, educators, and taxpayers” backed the initiative, with millionaire physicist Charles Munger Jr. donating the initial funds to get the measure on the ballot.

This is where the CTA spent the bulk of its campaign contributions, donating $22 million of the $75 million raised to fight Proposition 32. Supporters of the measure raised almost $60 million (with some of these funds allocated to fight Proposition 30), and Republicans weren’t the only one steering the ship. Former Democratic state Sen. Gloria Romero endorsed the measure as a “reform that would rescue schools.”

Romero tangled with the CTA, while the Senate majority leader from 2001 to 2009 said she’s not surprised that the CTA would pour millions of dollars into defeating the measure. “It would snap shut the political war chest CTA amasses automatically, without ever asking for permission to take the money or give members a voice in how it’s spent,” Romero wrote in The Orange County Register.

The measure failed to pass with 44 percent of voters supporting the initiative.

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