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DOA: Behind the Chamber of Commerce's 'Job Killers' List

The California Chamber of Commerce's "Job Killers List" obviates nearly 97 percent of bills before they ever reach legislation—and paints Paid Family Leave and Sugary Drinks Tax as "mega job killers".

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The California Chamber of Commerce represents more than 13,000 businesses, from companies such as Microsoft and Walt Disney, to local companies with small numbers of employees. From its K Street headquarters in Sacramento, the “Cal Chamber,” as it’s colloquially known, analyzes some 3,000 pieces of legislation every year. In the past 10 years, 341 of 353—nearly 97 percent—of the bills identified by the California Chamber of Commerce failed to become law. The vast majority of these were never passed by the Legislature and sent to the Governor. Instead, they were killed in committee or voted down by the Legislature or amended to take out provisions opposed by the chamber.

The chamber’s weapon of choice is its highly publicized “ Job Killers List,” a roll call of bills the chamber claims threaten the interests of business, though its press releases tend to stress the bills’ menace to California’s economy and its workers’ jobs.

The chamber’s job killers list has nearly been as effective under the governorship of the Democrat Jerry Brown as under that of the Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger, begging the question, How can the chamber stop so many bills in a state Legislature in which Democrats enjoy supermajorities in both houses? Despite repeated requests for interviews, representatives of the Cal Chamber did not to speak to Capital and Main. A spokesperson did, however, provide requested statistics on its job killers project and offered this explanation of the chamber’s success in an email:

The reason the Chamber has been so successful over the years with our Job Killer campaign is that we have done an excellent job of educating legislators and Governors about how these bills will hurt job creators and California’s competitiveness.

Exactly how that is accomplished will be a subject for discussion in a later feature. For now, we offer a survey of bills that were shot down over the last two years, thanks in part to the chamber branding them as job killers. (Read about more targets of the job killers list in Bill Raden’s “Capitol Punishment” sidebar.)

The Walmart Loophole

This year Los Angeles Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez, a Democrat, thought he had found a solution to a vexing problem involving medical coverage for low-wage workers. The federal Affordable Care Act requires large employers to pay a penalty to offset the costs of public subsidies for their employees’ healthcare. But under a loophole, there is no penalty for the employers whose approximately 250,000 California workers are enrolled in Medi-Cal, the state’s Medicaid program for the poor. That is because large companies that pay low wages can shift full-time workers to part-time status. For Walmart employees that shift would mean they are no longer eligible for company health benefits and would instead become eligible for Medi-Cal.

Gomez proposed to close the loophole by imposing stiff penalties on large companies that push their employees onto the Medi-Cal rolls. Assembly Bill 880 would have done that by fining companies with at least 500 employees about $5,000 for each employee who became eligible for Medi-Cal.

AB 880 seemed like a winner in an Assembly controlled by a Democratic supermajority, and it also enjoyed a powerful ally in organized labor. But then one of the state’s most effective business lobbies swung into action on behalf of the country’s biggest private employer.

Gomez’s bill, the Chamber of Commerce claimed, would discourage the hiring of entry or re-entry workers, harm California’s fragile economy and unfairly punish state employers. The chamber wasn’t alone in fighting Walmart’s war: Other business groups piled on, including the California Retailers Association, the California Grocers Association, the California Hotel and Lodging Association, the International Council of Shopping Centers and the Orange Council Business Council. The chamber released a video that opened with a montage of California workers picking fruit, labeling boxes at a distribution center and driving trucks. Those hardest hit by AB 880, the video claimed, would be farmers, restaurants, students and nonprofit organizations, such as the California Community College Foundation. Nowhere was Walmart’s name heard or seen in the two and a half minute clip, which stated that violating companies would be on the hook for fines ranging from $6,000 to $15,000.