EDITORIAL: Third time is the charm for state's public safety unions

May 15, 2014 

After sensibly vetoing a legislative giveaway to firefighters and police officers — twice — Gov. Jerry Brown this week gave in on the third try.

We're disappointed. Brown, who is running for re-election, seems to have either given in to pressure from the powerful public safety interests or decided to sign the bill as a parting gift to former Assembly Speaker John A. Pérez, who is termed out and running for state controller this year.

Pérez's Assembly Bill 1035 extends the time the family of a police officer or firefighter can file a claim for lump-sum death benefits, from 240 weeks to 420 weeks, in cases of cancer, tuberculosis, bloodborne infectious diseases or staph infections contracted while on duty.

In the past two years, Pérez pushed two previous versions of this bill through the Legislature only to have them vetoed by Brown.

Cities protested the legislation because of its potential to add tens of millions in costs on top of the generous benefits that local governments already provide to the family of officers or firefighters killed in the line of duty.

With many cities still struggling to balance their books coming out of the Great Recession, the governor's signature on this legislation could trigger financial challenges solved only by reducing services to taxpayers, laying off employees or delaying the purchases of needed equipment.

Brown heard the concerns of local government representatives previously, noting that there was no evidence the legislation was needed and the potential cost was too high. The Editorial Board opposed the bills as well.

On Thursday, the governor told The Sacramento Bee's Editorial Board that he found the new version "reasonable."

What changed his mind, he said, is the provision that it sunsets in 2019 and therefore only would affect about 20 widows. The estimated cost for cities is between $4 million and $5 million.

Brown said that if he's re-elected he can re-evaluate the extension if anyone tries to renew it.

He expounded further on the decision to sign this bill, lending credibility to the notion that it was a carefully calculated political move:

"In this business you have so many yeses and so many nos," Brown said. "If all you have is nos, you're not going to get many yeses. So you have to balance. It's all a balance."

That raises the question: What "no" did he balance for this "yes"?

Just one day ago, we urged the governor to hold his ground against the Legislature's freely spending Democrats. Perhaps Brown has positioned himself on quicksand.


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