In his Sunday column in the Los Angeles Times, award-winning business columnist Michael Hiltzik shines a spotlight on how California's big corporations are gearing up to increase their power, privilege, and profits. Twelve measures will be on the California ballot in November, but five of them either strengthen or weaken big corporations' bottom line. These corporate titans pose a danger to California’s consumers and workers.
It is too early to know how much Big Business will spend, but they will definitely reach into their deep pockets to fund lots of propaganda - TV ads and direct mail to homes—to confuse and sway voters.
Four of these ballot measures focus on one particular industry, but one of the measures - Proposition 15 - focuses on the entire corporate class and is the one that big corporations will mobilize around the most. Even in a pandemic, they are willing to spend huge amounts of cash to defend themselves against measures to make big business act more socially responsible. I wouldn't be surprised if, together, corporate California spends close to $1 billion—an all time record—on these five measures. Here's a quick rundown:
I wouldn't be surprised if, together, corporate California spends close to $1 billion—an all time record—on these five measures.
PROPOSITION 15 – called Schools & Communities First—is going to break all records for corporate spending on a California ballot measure. Vote YES on this important measure. Polling shows that 58% of California’s likely voters support Proposition 15. But starting around Labor Day, every major corporation and corporate lobby group in California will begin pouring big bucks to defeat this measure by lying to voters. I wouldn’t be surprised if they spend $300 million or more, because it would reform the 1978 Proposition 13 law by closing property tax loopholes on the state's largest corporations. It would reclaim $12 billion every year for California’s K-12 schools, community colleges, local governments, and essential services. This new revenue would be generated by requiring that commercial and industrial properties worth more than $3 million be taxed at fair market value. Proposition 15 would protect homeowners and renters, small businesses, and agricultural land from any property tax increase. Ten percent of the biggest, most valuable commercial and industrial property owners would generate 92% of the new revenue. This reveals that big corporations in the state have gotten a free ride for decades at the expense of Californians. The new revenues will go to local school districts and local governments in every California county to invest in things like
- Reducing class sizes,
- expanding health care services,
- fighting homelessness,
- hiring firefighters and updating their equipment,
- improving the safety of our drinking water, and
- preparing for future disasters such as wildfires, pandemics, and earthquakes
PROPOSITION 21 – Vote YES on this measure, which would give cities the authority to adopt rent control. Currently, state law (the much-despised Costa-Hawkins Act, sponsored by the real estate industry in 1995) limits cities from really protecting tenants and keeping apartments affordable. Under current law, every time a tenant leaves, landlords can raise rents to whatever they want, so they have an incentive to push longtime tenants, especially seniors, out of their apartments. Landlords do this routinely. It is illegal but they are rarely caught or punished. Proposition 21 would allow (but not require) cities to regulate rents on apartments, even after a tenant leaves. It would permit annual rent increases but prohibit rent gouging and unfair evictions. In 2018, the real estate industry - dominated by big developers and corporate landlords—spent over $70 million in misleading propaganda to defeat a similar measure, Proposition 10. But since then, the COVID19 pandemic has exposed the fragility of our housing system. Millions of California renters are now in danger of eviction. So the appetite for strong renter protections has increased. Proposition 21 would allow local governments to establish rent control on residential properties over 15 years old. It not only exempts single-family homeowners but is also exempts individuals who own two homes. I wouldn’t be surprised if the real estate industry and the landlord lobby – which keep claiming that they are hurting because millions of tenants can’t afford to pay the rent – spend more than the $70+ million they spent two years ago to defeat Proposition 10. This money comes from the rents they collect from tenants! But tenant activists and their allies across California are gearing up for a grassroots, but remote, campaign to pass Proposition 21. Get on board!
PROPOSITION 22 – This is an anti-workers rights measure so vote NO to defeat it. It was put on the ballot by the huge and highly profitable gig corporations—Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Postmates, and Instacart – to screw their employees. It is designed to overturn a recent state law (AB 5) that now requires these big corporations to designate their drivers as employees rather than as “independent contractors.” Under AB5, these big corporations have to guarantee employees a minimum wage, overtime pay, and the right to unionize if they want. It also requires these companies to pay for drivers’ fuel, insurance, and wear-and-tear on their cars. They’ve already spent $111 million, and they will no doubt more than double that before November, so you can imagine how much money they were making before California passed AB 5 to make them respect workers rights.
PROPOSITION 23 – Vote YES to protect workers and patients in the greedy kidney dialysis industry. It sets minimum standards for physician staffing at kidney dialysis clinics and requires the dialysis companies to report dialysis-related infection data to state and federal governments. It also prohibits these companies from discriminating against patients based on the source of payment for care. You may not have heard of DaVita and Fresenius, but they are two large corporations that own lots of dialysis clinics, collect billions of dollars in fees, and make huge profits as part of the medical-industrial complex. In 2018, these two companies spent over $111 million to defeat Proposition 8, a similar (even somewhat stronger) measure. This year, consumer, patient, and workers rights groups, led by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), are trying again to require this industry to be more transparent and socially responsible.
PROPOSITION 25 – If you are concerned about mass incarceration and reforming the prison-industrial complex, vote YES on this measure. Did you know that most Californians who are in jail have not been convicted of a crime? They are there because they can’t afford cash bail, which is particularly a problem for low-income people and people of color. This is a serious racial justice, economic fairness, and civil liberties issue. In 2018, acting on the advice of state Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye, the state legislature passed a bill that ended cash bail in California. Rather than let affluent people pay their way out of jail while they await trial, the law gives judges the right to determine whether someone who is arrested should be kept behind bars based on the risk they are deemed to pose to themselves or others. As Hiltzik explains, Proposition 25 ”would allow the 2018 law banning cash bail to finally go into effect.” If you think that the cash bail industry is mostly small mom-and-pop operations, you’re wrong. As Hiltzik points out, “the cash bail system is a big, global business that masquerades behind a facade of mom-and-pop storefronts. The real powers behind the industry are international insurance companies for whom a system of charging exorbitant fees to families who can barely afford them has been worth billions a year.” Insurers have contributed most of the almost $4 million to defeat Proposition 25 and are going to spend much more before the November election.
There are other important propositions on the November ballot, but these five measures are the ones that pit Big Business – the corporate class in general and specific industries in particular – against everyday consumers and workers. In the absence of strong campaign finance reforms that take Big Money out of politics, we have to mount people-centered grassroots campaigns to defeat these corporate titans. But it is possible if we get involved and we vote.