Even among veteran Capitol cynics, the Hail-Mary amendments offered up last week in Assembly Appropriations Committee managed to raise more than a few eyebrows.
The focus of discussion was Senate Bill 568 – Senator Alan Lowenthal’s proposal to ban restaurants, cafeterias and other food services from using polystyrene foam (aka Styrofoam) containers. Restaurants, chambers of commerce, and small businesses repeatedly have been voicing concern that the measure would unnecessarily increase the cost of doing business. Over time these cost increases will threaten many of my members’ ability to survive because they operate on such razor-thin profit margins.
Throughout the legislative process, the bill’s proponents have dismissed these concerns as nonexistent.
But with brighter light now shining on the measure, it is apparent that there is a huge fiscal impact on the public sector. Such struggling public institutions as schools, hospitals, state agencies and universities would all be forced to pay millions of dollars more for their “to-go” food packaging.
In response, Sen. Lowenthal indicated during his testimony that he intended to offer amendments as early as this week to exempt public institutions from being subject to the ban – a direct acknowledgement of the associated costs. Yet, there was no mention of the impact on businesses – especially on small “mom-and-pop” restaurants. Why the bias?
In the California Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s view, Senator Lowenthal’s “solution” proves this bill is completely out of touch with the reality of the current economy (California’s unemployment rate just jumped back above 12 percent). The so-called “green jobs” that would emerge to make the more costly alternatives is a ludicrous pipe dream devoid of any grasp of business or the global marketplace. It’s like saying that laid-off journalists will be fine because they can just start their own blogs, or that fired teachers can simply start online teaching, or that unemployed construction workers can find work by migrating to solar.
And why are the thin profit margins of minority-owned businesses less important than the budgets of public institutions? It seems unreasonable that amendments would be offered to further target an already hammered sector of the business community while allowing public agencies off the hook.
The reality is this: Doing business in California is tough. Our members have chosen to work for themselves because they believe in the American dream of owning their own business and making decisions in the best interest of their companies and employees. They employ thousands of Californians and they serve their communities with pride. It is unfathomable that they would be targeted to incur higher costs of doing business in an already difficult economic climate.
And SB 568’s damage is not confined just to restaurants and food vendors. At least 1,000 verifiable and concrete manufacturing jobs in the economically depressed cities of Lodi, Bakersfield and Corona would be killed if SB 568 becomes law. Thousands more will also likely evaporate – including all California businesses that make picture frames and other green consumer products from recycled Styrofoam.
These are real jobs. Real people paying real bills and trying to support real families. Senator Lowenthal’s amendments illustrate utter and callous disregard for the human condition.
From Gov. Jerry Brown to Senate Pro-Tempore Darrell Steinberg and Assembly Speaker John Perez, California’s leaders have in recent weeks reiterated that jobs and the economy are the number one priority for our state. SB 568 will be the acid test for the Legislature’s commitment to this priority. Trying to gloss over the jobs issue with hypocritical amendments that protect the public sector but sacrifice factory workers, restaurant owners and others must be rejected. Enough is enough.