Having passed a big tax measure and secured a supermajority in both houses of the Legislature, Democrats have spent the past several weeks trying to assure voters and pundits they will use their new powers -- and new state money provided by taxpayers -- with restraint.
Yes, they will seek to be bold and attempt to mitigate the impacts of past cuts, they claimed, but they won't give away the store. "We will exercise this new power with strength, but also with humility and reason," Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said in November.
Now that it's January, all eyes are on Democrats to see what kind of restraint they will demonstrate. We are starting to see the answer. On Monday, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, introduced legislation that would give state workers a new state holiday, upping those paid holidays to an even dozen each year. In the private sector, seven or eight paid holidays is typical.
Under Hernandez's Assembly Bill 55, the government would shut down on the second Monday in October, in recognition of Native American Day. That would replace the Columbus Day holiday, a paid holiday that was axed by lawmakers along with Lincoln's Birthday during the dark budget days of 2009.
We share Hernandez's interest in assuring that Native Americans get the recognition they deserve. But let's not fool ourselves. This isn't about showing respect to the first indigenous Americans. It's about rewarding the Service Employees International Union and other public employee unions that helped Democrats win a supermajority and pass Proposition 30.
SEIU Local 1000, in particular, was furious when the Schwarzenegger administration eliminated the Columbus Day holiday.
Many state employees work hard, and they are due adequate time off. But most private employers don't offer 11 paid holidays each year, in addition to paid vacation. And they certainly wouldn't consider it at a time when their finances were less than solid or their ranks were stretched thin. Will it really improve customer service if the Department of Motor Vehicles and other state agencies are closed the second Monday in October?
The other issue is cost. By our calculations, taxpayers will pay about $60 million yearly to workers who would stay home on the new holiday, and that doesn't include possible overtime for essential workers who do work that day. And don't forget, to offset the loss of Columbus Day and Lincoln's Birthday, the Schwarzenegger administration granted state employees two floating days to take off yearly. Those apparently aren't going away.
Our guess is AB 55 will pass easily through that chamber, and possibly the Senate. If so, it will send the strongest signal yet that Democrats have little intention of holding their supermajorities for long.