East Bay Times Opposes AB 1250

By EAST BAY TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD |

PUBLISHED: July 24, 2017 at 6:00 am | UPDATED: July 24, 2017 at 2:17 pm

An insidious bill concocted by public employee labor unions would undermine the ability of California counties to provide services for the state’s neediest residents.

The bill presents one of the biggest threats to local government finances since state lawmakers nearly two decades ago opened the door to unaffordable pension increases that have buried cities and counties in debt.

AB 1250 would make it costlier and in many cases nearly impossible for counties to contract out for vital services. Instead, they would have to stop providing the services or, as union leaders hope, hire permanent county workers, replete with their costly retirement benefits.

Counties are already struggling to stretch limited funds, often relying on non-profits to more efficiently and often more effectively provide critical services.

The bill would undermine those efforts, impairing services like counseling for sex trafficking and domestic violence victims; outreach and shelters for the homeless; mental health services; HIV counseling; and basic medical care.

It would also hinder a county’s ability to hire, for example, financial, planning and environmental consultants, outside legal advisers, specialty-care doctors and private ambulance providers.

Exactly how devastating the bill would be is hard to gauge because it is riddled with vague and conflicting language that would require years of costly litigation to untangle, as a legal analysis for the counties points out.

We warned you in April about the bill, introduced by Assemblyman Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, a former local vice president for the Service Employees International Union, the political force behind the legislation.

The bill originally also covered cities, but they were removed before AB 1250 passed the Assembly in June. This month, the bill cleared the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.

Along the way, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, jumped on board as a co-author — even though his own county’s leaders oppose the legislation, as do 48 other counties, including Contra Costa.

One outlier is Santa Clara County, where the labor-friendly Board of Supervisors has yet to take a position and County Administrator Jeff Smith has cut his own side deal with SEIU.

As a result, the bill is to be amended to exempt that county’s health services department from the legislation’s onerous requirements. There is no rational reason Santa Clara should be omitted while struggling programs in other counties would be saddled with the provisions of AB 1250.

Backers claim the bill would be a cost-savings measure because it would bar counties from contracting for services when they could be more cheaply provided in-house.

But the proposed requirements for making the cost-savings comparisons are designed to skew the results against using private and non-profit firms for services. As just one of many examples, the comparison would exclude a county’s overhead costs, but include the overhead of the outside firm.

The irony is that county workers, will eventually suffer too, if AB 1250 passes. Many of these services are mandated under state law. If costs go up, the counties will have to cut workers elsewhere.