California voters' resounding defeat of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's slate of ballot initiatives has liberal legislative leaders and their labor union allies feeling emboldened as they try to push their agendas through Sacramento.
That, in turn, has business interests concerned about more legislation and ballot measures targeting business next year legislation that Schwarzenegger might not veto and initiatives that the politically weakened Republicans may not be able to thwart.
Adding to their worries is the growing concern that Schwarzenegger could be defeated next November, returning Sacramento to one-party rule.
"When you begin to get some victories, you tend to get greedy. We are concerned that labor unions, in particular, are going to go for everything they've ever dreamed of," said Michael Shaw, assistant state director for the California chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.
Already, legislative leaders have laid out an ambitious agenda for next year, including expanding health care coverage, legislation to reduce the price of prescription drugs, raising the minimum wage, restoring money that was previously promised to schools, going after tax cheats and putting together a multi-billion dollar infrastructure funding package.
"The governor has to put down his conservative agenda and find an agenda more palatable to the people," Assembly Majority Leader Dario Frommer, D-Los Angeles, told listeners of KCRW-FM's "Which Way, L.A.?" "Health care should be at the top of that agenda, as should be fighting for lower prices for prescription drugs, providing more money for transportation infrastructure, helping get more funding for higher education and helping to restore $2 billion in school funding."
Frommer said bills to raise the minimum wage, increase health insurance for children and crack down on tax cheats would be back on Schwarzenegger's desk next summer. The fate of other controversial bills, like granting driver's licenses to illegal immigrants, will be determined in caucus meetings over the next several weeks, he said.
Several of these measures, including a minimum wage hike and new health care mandates, are anathema to business interests, who maintain that they would add costly burdens at a time when costs are already spiraling out of control.
Democrat lawmakers are also talking about reopening workers' compensation reforms passed 18 months ago. They want to roll back benefit decreases to injured workers, cuts that some have labeled as draconian.
'More roads, bridges'
If there's any bright spot for business, it's the gathering momentum for a multi-billion dollar transportation infrastructure bond to be placed on the ballot next year, probably in June.
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