An end-of-the-year tradition among reporters, commentators, and more recently laptop pundits is the compilation of legislation that becomes law with the turn of the calendar. California being California, there is never a shortage of new rules to live by. And, with a few exceptions, they are further evidence that policymakers across the state still don’t get it. At all.
Consider these examples:
Minimum wage. Up again it went on Jan. 1, from $14 an hour to $15 an hour for businesses that employ 26 or more workers, and from $13 to $14 for smaller companies. Higher wages are nice, but when they are forced upward by public policy, rather than allowed to rise based on productivity, they cause prices to jump and cost jobs.
Mandatory composting. Lawmakers have convinced themselves and others that if they demand Californians toss their food waste into the green trash bins rather than the black ones, they will save us from the ravages of global warming. Not so. The methane produced in California from rotting food scraps will have no impact on the climate, no effect on temperatures.
Vote by mail. Assembly Bill 37 requires election officials to mail a ballot to every registered voter in the state. This arrangement invites fraud, error, and chaos.
New prohibitions. 2022 is the year that restaurants can no longer hand out condiment packets or “single-use foodware” accessories unless the items are requested by customers. This was done to combat climate change. But it’s yet another unnecessary annoyance that will achieve nothing.
Gasoline generator and lawn equipment bans. Though it won’t take effect for a few years, Assembly Bill 1346, which outlaws “small off-road engines” powered by gasoline, was passed and signed in 2021. It will be a “costly burden on the estimated nearly 8,300 landscaping businesses in the state, many of whom are minority entrepreneurs,” as well as a drain on the “lifeblood” from “hospitals and other emergency needs during power outages.”
Making it harder, more expensive to buy bacon in California. The Farm Animal Confinement Initiative, not a legislated statute but a ballot measure, passed overwhelmingly 63-37 in 2018, took effect on New Year’s Day. It shows there is as much muddled thinking among voters as there is policymakers.
Also known as Proposition 12, the measure bans the sale of veal from calves, pork from breeding pigs, and eggs from hens that don’t have enough living space. Sounds humane – though there is disagreement on its benefits among animal rights groups – but laws always carry consequences, and this one is going to hurt consumers. Bacon in particular is going to cost more in 2022 because pork producers that can’t meet the standard – which is almost all of them – won’t be able to sell their goods in California. The increased scarcity – supply could fall by half – will lead to higher prices.
Nothing illustrates the lack of understanding within the political-media industrial complex than a Dec. 31 Los Angeles Times story asking if the better path in the coming third year of pandemic is to “help businesses recover from an economic roller coaster by quashing burdensome new mandates” or “rescue workers with paid sick leave, higher wages and crackdowns on corporate bad behavior?”
Removing the yoke of regulation should never been seen as helping businesses. Yes, companies benefit when the government rules regime is lighter. But allowing businesses to operate under free-market conditions, where they and their employees flourish, is not a gift to them any more than allowing an innocent man to go free is a granting him an unwarranted favor. It’s the natural order.
At the same time, efforts to “rescue” workers are not in their best interests. Forcing companies to pay employees more than wage rates established by the market and altering their business models by making further demands leaves fewer resources available for expansion, promotions, and new hiring. Eventually, the yoke of government drives some out of state, others out of business.
It’s a lesson, like so many others, that seems will never be learned in Sacramento.
Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.