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Schwarzenegger's Pen Sends a Clear Message

Governor's impatience with unions and the Legislature shows in his veto of many of their top priorities. His business allies fare better.

October 09, 2005|Jordan Rau | Times Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's weariness with unions and the Legislature -- two institutions whose influence he is trying to curb through the special election he called for next month -- was on full display as he dispatched many of the ideas lawmakers approved this year.

Often agreeing with the California Chamber of Commerce, one of the main architects of his agenda in the Nov. 8 election, the Republican governor vetoed many of labor's top priorities.

Schwarzenegger's actions made unions, who are leading the opposition to his ballot proposals, among the bigger losers in a year when the governor found much to offer those on both sides of many issues, including the environment, gay rights and consumer protection.

Though Schwarzenegger signed a number of union-sponsored measures -- in some cases, against the wishes of his business allies -- labor's achievements were light years away from the heady days when Schwarzenegger's predecessor, Democrat Gray Davis, routinely approved ambitious union requests.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday October 15, 2005 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Bill signings -- An article in Sunday's California section about bills signed into law said Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation authorizing California's Employment Training Panel to award contracts to projects that train workers in seasonal industries. The governor vetoed the measure.

"Organized labor in California, which is really a cornerstone of the labor movement in this country, is on the ropes," said Larry Gerston, a professor of political science at San Jose State University. "If you're the forces of business and are anti-tax, and you see this kind of success here, you've got to be licking your lips in terms of what's going to happen in 2006."

Over the last month, Schwarzenegger rejected measures that would have cracked down on employers who delay paying workers' compensation claims or fail to pay the minimum wage or overtime. He declined to raise the minimum wage, provide unemployment insurance to striking workers who are locked out, or pay particularly productive agricultural and garment workers more money during their rest breaks.

He vetoed the one bill sponsored by the California Teachers Assn. -- the biggest single funder of the campaign against him. The union measure would have required the state to repay $500 million that lawmakers cut from the teachers' retirement fund in 2003.

Schwarzenegger has long complained about the influence unions have in the Democratic-led Legislature. One of the ballot initiatives would restrict their ability to use members' dues for politics. Labor is on track to spend more than $100 million to defeat that and four other initiatives the governor has endorsed.

Yet Schwarzenegger's opposition to union measures was hardly inviolable as he judged 961 bills. By the time he finished late Friday, he had vetoed just shy of a quarter of them -- the same rate as last year.

He broke with the Chamber of Commerce and the state's manufacturers and technology lobby in extending the statute of limitations by giving people more time to sue for employment discrimination suffered when they were teenagers.

Schwarzenegger approved a bill sponsored by the Service Employees International Union -- one of his main opponents in the coming election -- that requires the state to do more extensive vetting of prospective hospital owners.

He authorized California's Employment Training Panel to award contracts to projects that train workers in seasonal industries, even though manufacturing and business groups complained that would divert money from industries that offered permanent jobs.

Still, Schwarzenegger's allies in the fall election, including his biggest sources of donations, fared well overall. Longtime supporters of the governor said they were generally satisfied, even though they didn't get everything they wanted.

He rejected seven of eight bills the Chamber of Commerce had labeled as "job killers." The one he did support bans the sending of unsolicited advertising faxes from California.

"Putting all the campaign rhetoric aside, if you look at his track record, it's very consistent with what he presented himself to be when he ran for governor," said Joel Fox, president of the Small Business Action Committee.

Schwarzenegger disappointed California's car dealers by refusing to increase the fee they can charge for paperwork involved in vehicle sales, and by requiring labels on new cars to detail their emissions of gases linked to global warming.

But he signed a compromise the industry had worked out with consumer activists that capped excessive loans and other abusive sales practices.

"From our perspective, the Car Buyers Bill of Rights was so much more important than any other bill we were lobbying," said Brian Maas, the lobbyist for the California Motor Car Dealers Assn.

For a politician who has been pummeled by accusations that he has become a corporate lackey, Schwarzenegger offered a number of surprises as he signed bills by some of the most liberal lawmakers while routinely ignoring the Legislature's far more conservative Republican caucus.

"He might have done a little bit of a swivel, but that is what an open-minded governor is supposed to do," said Sen. Carole Migden (D-San Francisco). Schwarzenegger signed many of her bills.

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