Shortsightedness of post-partisanship 

According to a recent survey by the Public Policy Institute of California, voters in the state have been won over by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s newfound ability to work with state legislators and get things done. The governor’s fresh, "post-partisan" thinking does project a winning appeal, but some of his pet projects could be brought low.

Smothered by the resounding applause, a few alarm bells are ringing ever so faintly. These are the pesky kind of noises triggered by a want of farsightedness. Not "vision," which every ambitious politician holds in abundance, but the ability to see more than three steps ahead.

Let’s start with the governor’s elaborate plan to impose universal health care on Californians. Announced with much fanfare, and ostensibly the product of an assemblage of the best medical experts, the proposed Golden State plan one-ups a plan concocted last year by Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. The essential feature of both plans: Employers, doctors and hospitals would pay taxes — Gov. Schwarzenegger calls them "fees" or, laughably, "loans" — to assure coverage of every citizen.

It turns out that neither governor nor their advisers apparently troubled themselves to study the Federal Retirement Income Security Act, known as ERISA. Not surprisingly, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals did know something about the 1974 law. Invoking it, the appellate court ruled illegal a Maryland law requiring companies with more than 10,000 employees to devote 8 percent of their payrolls to health care.

Companies of that size — it’s no secret Maryland lawmakers targeted Wal-Mart — tend to operate in multiple states with companywide insurance plans. Under ERISA, one state’s legislature may not tamper with these plans. One might have thought, for all the expertise summoned and all the time devoted to these plans, that some knowledgeable wonk, after a polite throat-clearing, might have reintroduced these illustrious planners to ERISA.

Thinking ahead, of course, means knowing something about previously trod ground so that 33-year-old laws don’t pop up as tripwires. Likewise, when addressing the state’s infrastructure needs, the governor and his friends across the aisle vastly underestimated the cost of repairing California’s roads.

When voters in November approved propositions 1A and 1B, authorizing the state to purchase $35 billion in bonds, $7.4 billion of which was designated for the Bay Area, they no doubt thought that would be the end of it. To be sure, Gov. Schwarzenegger wanted well over that level of bonded indebtedness but — in a prefigurement of post-partisanship — was held to it by the Democratic leadership.

Now comes word from the Legislative Analyst’s Office that maintenance alone on transportation upgrades will heap mountainous costs on the state’s taxpayers. Sacramento already buzzes with proposals to double the gasoline tax, and San Francisco’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission talks openly of a regional fuel tax.

If this is what post-partisanship produces, it soon may wear out its welcome.

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Staff Report

Staff Report

A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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