Scott Wilk | Pay to Play? Follow the Dough

Scott Wilk

On the final day of the legislative session last year, I posted a “proof of life” picture on the Senate floor. Holding up a copy of that day’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, I said, “If Gov. Newsom signs the bills we pass today, California employers will be funding labor strikes, families will be paying $16 for a Happy Meal, and hospitals will become as rare as a Blockbuster Video store.”

You can’t say I didn’t warn you. If the prices at your favorite drive-thru give you a heart attack, you can thank California’s progressives and Gov. Newsom for signing Assembly Bill 1228 into law. The bill, which takes effect April 1 (no fooling), will require a $20-per-hour minimum wage for fast-food workers.

California’s cost of living is out of control, but anyone with two brain cells can understand that this magic-wand-mandate will only make it worse for the very people it’s meant to help.

Clearly one billionaire Panera Bread franchisee, whose brain is likely brimming with cells, understood from the get-go what this half-baked idea would cost him.

Late last month, a Bloomberg News report exposed a specific carve-out within the bill for chains with on-site bakeries that sell bread. Even more eyebrow-raising was the revelation that said billionaire, Greg Flynn, initially an opponent of the legislation, had donated some serious dough to Newsom’s campaigns – nearly $200,000.

The governor’s camp, the bill’s author and Flynn all denied pay-to-play allegations, but it sure smacks of exactly that. McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Chipotle – they all have to pay their employees $20 per hour, but not Panera because it makes bread? That doesn’t make sense.

Things got even murkier when (thanks to great follow-up reporting by KCRA) it was revealed that the labor union that led the bill’s negotiations, SEIU, made groups involved in the process sign nondisclosure agreements.

The governor said there was nothing to this, that it was all just part of the “sausage-making.” In my 12 years in Sacramento, I have never heard of NDAs being involved in the work of the people.

What does it say about the bill when a business owner with ties to the governor seemingly gets an exemption from a policy that would cost him greatly? It means that for the right price, you can buy a handy “rules for thee, but not for me” card behind closed doors. That’s pay-to-play.

All this is why I opposed another bill that included more carve-outs (AB 610) when it came up for a vote on the floor. I also joined legislative Republicans in calling on the state’s attorney general to investigate the matter. If there’s nothing to hide, then there should be no issue laying out exactly what went down.

Not doing so only reinforces people’s perception of their government as corrupt and shady, making secret deals in smoke-filled rooms. Though in California, smoking is probably prohibited in even the shadiest of deal-making rooms.

Regardless of pay-to-play, AB 1228 is just another “ready-fire-aim” bill that in the coming years will likely backfire on the progressives who voted for it. 

I can see it now. Just like how, this year, they are suddenly walking back legislation they rammed through in 2022 to make your electricity bills based on income, and not actual usage. Why? Their constituents learned what was to happen and rightfully raised their voices about how it would make their life more expensive.

I’m actually coauthoring a bill to pull the plug on that fixed-charge mandate, Senate Bill 1326. And because that mandate is supposed to take effect July 1, SB 1326 contains an emergency clause that would make it effective immediately upon being signed into law.

Instead of crafting meaningful solutions to California’s crises, Sacramento progressives waste time trying to fix the problems they’ve created even as they find ways to create new ones. Legislation here is based mostly on feelings, rarely on reality.

Whether it’s policy that will escalate utility bills or fast food prices, their policies almost always end up costing you more.

Can’t afford to take the family to Disneyland this summer? There’s always Fantasyland at the Capitol.

Sen. Scott Wilk represents the 21st Senate District, which includes the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys. “Right Here, Right Now” appears Saturdays and rotates among local Republicans.

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