State Sen. Leland Yee’s attack on the truth

San Francisco Chronicle, 3/8/11.

One of the reasons it’s so difficult to have an honest discussion about the cost of public employee benefits is that politicians who are beholden to unions are quick to demagogue the issue. The latest example is state Sen. Leland Yee’s attempt to distort the words of a UC regent’s recent Open Forum piece on collective bargaining.

Yee, a San Francisco Democrat, has been trying to whip up opposition to the confirmation of University of California Regent David Crane by claiming that the regent “called for an end to collective bargaining rights for California teachers, nurses, firefighters, university employees and other public sector workers.”

One problem: Crane did not call for an end to collective bargaining in his Feb. 27 piece, “Public, private sectors aren’t the same.” What the former adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger did was present a history of collective bargaining in California and explain how a 1977 law had changed the balance of power by giving public employees power over their compensation and benefits. Crane did assert that extending collective bargaining to employees who already have civil service protections “serves to reduce benefits for citizens and to raise costs for taxpayers.” Anyone who would argue with that fact has not been paying attention to what is happening with state and local budgets lately.

But Crane knows – as should Yee – that there is absolutely no chance that collective bargaining rights would be repealed in the Democratic-controlled California Legislature or by Gov. Jerry Brown.

“It’s like the Big Lie … this thing sort of takes on a life of its own,” said Crane, a registered Democrat, noting that the manufactured controversy inspired a candlelight vigil at UC Santa Barbara on Monday night.

Yee might think this little disinformation campaign might help his run for San Francisco mayor, but it’s also serving notice to city taxpayers that he might not be the best candidate to deal with all the labor contracts that will be up for renewal next year.

Crane has long been widely respected as a teller of inconvenient truths about the rising costs of public-employee pensions and benefits. He should not be silenced – or misquoted by opportunistic politicians. The Senate should vote to confirm him as regent.

Crane’s open forum piece

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