Special interests flocking to state as Republican reforms unveiled in Sacramento
By David M. Drucker, SACRAMENTO BUREAU
Inside Bay Area
SACRAMENTO ˜ As Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger moves to dramatically overhaul California state government, concerned groups throughout America are preparing to head west and help their Golden State allies defeat his proposals with the hope of preventing them from ever having a chance to spread east.
Schwarzenegger wants to amend the state constitution to change the way Sacramento manages money, pays public school teachers, draws political districts and provides for the retirement of its workers. But opponents ˜ from labor unions to education advocates ˜ are vowing to partner with their California affiliates and defeat what many Democrats call a "Republican, Bush-Schwarzenegger" agenda.
"We're going to put into California whatever it takes to defeat his initiatives," said Richard Ferlauto, the director of pension and benefit policy for the Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees.
Ferlauto, based in Washington, arrived in Los Angeles on Friday to hold a weekend training session focused on teaching union members how to oppose Schwarzenegger's proposals ˜ especially his plan to revamp the public employee pension system. Ferlauto said California is going to be ground-zero for Republican attempts to overhaul Social Security and "privatize" pensions in other states.
"We're fully committing union resources to defeat whatever Schwarzenegger (pushes,)" he said. "The lines have been drawn in California around all of the governor's initiatives."
Amending the state constitution requires voter approval, and Schwarzenegger has chosen an otherwise off-year for elections for voters to decide on his plans to add a ''spending control" mechanism to the budget process and convert the state-employee pension scheme from one that guarantees the level of benefits to the market-based 401(k) system common in private industry.
Schwarzenegger also wants to pay public school teachers on merit rather than tenure, and take the power to draw legislative and congressional districts away from the Democrat-led Legislature.
Opponents and advocates of these plans are poised to parachute into California, believing their success or failure in the special election Schwarzenegger is likely to call for November will impact their ability to spread across the country.
"Anything that happens in California is a big deal," said Gaynor McCown, executive director of The Teaching Commission, a New York-based organization that favors paying teachers according to student performance. "To the extent that something happens in California, it will have an impact on what happens in other states."
Billing itself as an "action tank" rather than just a think tank, McCown said The Teaching Commission is considering how it can help Schwarzenegger push for merit pay in the upcoming campaign.
Democratic lawmakers ˜ both in Sacramento and Washington ˜ have likened Schwarzenegger's package to the reforms being pushed by President Bush, ostensibly to damage the moderate Republican governor's bipartisan credentials in this, a majority Democratic state.
The governor's plan to provide a 401(k) pension plan to all employees hired as of 2007 has been compared to the president's move to add personal investment accounts to Social Security.
His proposal to put a panel of retired judges in charge of drawing political districts has been compared to a redistricting plan implemented in Texas ˜ pushed by that state's Republican-controlled legislature ˜ that resulted in the elimination of several Democratic seats in the House, with Republicans elected in their place.
"Take a look at his plan to restructure the pension system," said Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez, D-Los Angeles, and a former union official. "I see it as a Bush-Schwarzenegger reform, and the Bush-Schwarzenegger effort to change the way we do pensions doesn't solve the problem."
Bill Patterson, director of the Office of Investment for the AFL-CIO in Washington, said Schwarzenegger's proposal to revamp California's pension system in particular is seen nationally as a companion measure to the president's plan to "privatize" Social Security. He thinks Bush might even use the governor's plan to bolster his case for overhauling Social Security.
Schwarzenegger predicts unions across the country will pour manpower and up to $200 million into California this year to defeat his initiatives in a campaign that could begin this week as a fight for the 600,000 valid signatures needed to place his measures on the ballot and continue as a major battle both for an against the initiatives themselves.
Thus far, national union officials are playing coy.
California-based labor leaders say union officials throughout America are gravely concerned about how Schwarzenegger's reforms will affect their rank-and-file members here, adding that their "brothers and sisters" from unions in other states will do whatever it takes to defeat the governor and stop his proposals from taking hold elsewhere.
National labor officials, while promising to solidly back their California affiliates in the upcoming campaign, have thus far declined to say exactly what form their opposition will take. But perhaps tellingly, they are not disputing Schwarzenegger's contention that they will spend as much as $200 million to defeat his proposals.
Kristy Sermersheim, who is based in San Jose but helps oversee the pensions of hundreds of thousands of workers for the Service Employees International Union as chairwoman of its Public Sector Division, said union members throughout the country will "make sure the people of California" understand how Schwarzenegger's proposals would affect the middle class.
"We're all interested," she said. "There isn't anyone who doesn't know Arnold Schwarzenegger or doesn't know (what's happening) in California."
Schwarzenegger's political committee in charge of pushing his policy initiatives ˜ the California Recovery Team ˜ has been mum on its campaign plans. The governor has said he intends to raise $50 million to put his measures before the voters and campaign on their behalf, and officials close to the Schwarzenegger administration say details of such a campaign could begin to emerge this week.
Last week, the governor released radio ads countering claims made by the California Teachers Association that his budget proposal for fiscal year 2005-06 cuts education spending. The CTA is the largest state affiliate of the National Education Association ˜ an organization that is adamantly against moving teachers from a salary system based on tenure to one determined by student performance.
The National Education Association's policy is to jump into state fights at the request of its state chapter, something it is prepared to do here upon request. If asked, its assistance could include everything from strategy to manpower to money, said Michael Pons, a spokesman for the NEA in Washington.
"Our purpose is to help our affiliate be effective."