Jobless? Too bad
Leaders indifferent to economic toll of rules
2:00 a.m. October 16, 2009
The single most immediate problem facing California is the deep recession that has driven unemployment to a 70-year high of 12.2 percent. We appreciate the circumstances that led Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to call special sessions of the Legislature to deal with pressing water, education and tax reform issues. But there is an even bigger need for a special session on how to preserve and create jobs.
Yet even with some economists predicting 15 percent unemployment in coming months, the governor and the Democrats who control the Assembly and Senate want nothing to do with such a session. Why? Because it would make it more difficult for them to continue to pretend that the excessive environmental regulations they champion are unrelated to the state's economic decline.
Consider the tough new rules on diesel emissions for commercial trucks, off-road vehicles and some portable mechanical equipment that are being phased in as a result of a decision last December by the state Air Resources Board.
The cost of compliance is estimated to be up to $10 billion. While large companies with fleets that are regularly replaced and/or upgraded may be able to readily handle these new requirements, they amount to a death sentence for a great variety of small businesses all over the state, which in many cases will be forced to get rid of vehicles and equipment with years and years of use remaining.
This prompted 52 state lawmakers — including eight Democrats — to send a Sept. 9 letter to the air board requesting a temporary suspension of the rules. The letter noted that only $250 million of the $750 million in grants, matching funds and low-cost loans promised by the state to help undercapitalized companies retrofit or replace their fleets had been made available because of the state's problems in selling the bonds slated to fund the assistance program.
Nearly six weeks later, the air board has not even bothered to respond. It may be an official letter signed by nearly half of the Legislature, but since it acknowledges the economic price of heavy regulations, air board officials consider it unofficially invisible.
No wonder California has record-high unemployment that is much worse than most states. No wonder economists predict the jobless rate will go even higher. The bureaucrats with the power to make or break the state's economy are bent on the latter — and the politicians with the power to make them shift course don't care.
They've got more pressing concerns. Consider Senate President Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who held a press conference yesterday to denounce the three-day-a-month furloughs of most state workers. This confirms whom the majority party in the Legislature most worries about during this economic bloodbath: the public employees who have jobs.
As you might expect, Steinberg wasn't one of the eight Democrats who signed the petition asking the air board to get its boot off the throat of small business owners. As far as he and the rest of the Sacramento establishment is concerned, they're on their own.