A little while ago, I blogged on Governor Napolitano's decision to sign the very tough employer sanctions bill that the legislature passed after it was pushed primarily by hardcore anti-immigration GOP hardliners. I briefly alluded to the political impact of her decision, but as I've thought about it, I've realized how truly brilliant her move was, and how it warrants another post.
In Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan, Mr. Chekov and companion are surprised to meet Khan on a world they thought was deserted. Though Khan has not seen anyone from outside for years, he thinks at first that Chekov may have come to his world by intent. But then he realizes that they landed on the wrong planet, and he says, in an excited but subdued voice, strengthened by sudden realization of discovery and advantage, "You didn't expect to find me!"
And so it is here. I could almost hear the Governor saying with a feeling of victory under her breath as she read the sanctions bill, 'Ah, I see... you didn't expect me to sign this bill.'
After vetoing scores of the legislature's most draconian bills since taking office in 2002 (and making every single one of those vetoes stand) the Governor has largely muzzled the legislature's conservative leaders. They still try to pass a lot of bills that have veto-bait written all over them, mostly to embarrass the Governor or perhaps to get her on record (a record they can distort) for 2010 in the event that she runs for the Senate.
And I believe that was the case here. Governor Napolitano has said before that the way to deal with immigration is to get tough on people who hire undocumented workers. So the legislature decided to call her bluff and pass this piece of legislation so she'd veto it and then they could cite it when they went after her on immigration sometime in the future. Her past defense of vetoing immigration bills has been that it is a Federal responsibility (which is true, in fact.) But after last week's defeat of the Federal immigration bill they would be able to hit her with the failure of the Federal government to act.
Only, they were sure that she would veto it. After all, she invariably vetos any bill that is this draconian in its effects and she has always maintained decent relations with the business community in the state. So when they wrote the bill they didn't bother to exempt anyone who has a business license. They wrote in some ridiculous figures-- $100,000 to maintain a statewide database AND cover statewide enforcement of the law, and $70,000 to educate employers all over the state about it. County attorneys get $2.5 million-- spread among all 16 counties in the state-- which is supposed to cover the cost of hiring people to investigate and prosecute these cases. In other words they didn't think much through. Why waste time working very hard on a bill that is going to be vetoed anyway?
So they thought.
Then she signed it. And announced that she is likely to call a special session to deal with the glitches. So much for the 'part time legislature.' They will be back in August or September for what could be a very rocky session.
And she holds all the cards. In exempting infrastructure, there is little they can argue. They don't really want their constituents to freeze in the dark this winter when the electric company closes up shop. They don't want to be closing hospitals.
They will of course want to exempt private schools (at least those which are run as for profit businesses) so they don't have to comply with a law that the public schools won't have to worry about the consequences of. But right now, the private schools will be hit with the new law, and I have a feeling the Governor will demand a stiff price for exempting them (wonder how much of a split that one is causing in the GOP caucus, since some members are very committed to private schools and 'educational choice,' and are probably furious at their own leaders for getting them to vote for this package which has now come back and gored their own ox.) Getting rid of the flawed database requirement and going back to Social Security cards may be one price that she demands.
The funding is the other big issue here. $170,000 might pay for the computers the database is to be maintained from. It certainly won't cover the employees or resources necessary to educate and then enforce the law on employers statewide. For $2.5 million total, the county attorneys won't be able to investigate and prosecute more than a few really egregious cases. Only, the state budget has already been passed for this year. And at that, the slump in the housing market (to say nothing of what this bill will do-- certainly not cause a short term economic boom) is likely to bring revenue projections down. So she holds all the cards again-- she can simply insist that the legislature leave the already approved budget for this year alone, and find their own funding sources. In other words, they can choose between in effect gutting their own law (essentially keeping it on paper with no one out there enforcing it) or raising the revenue to fund it. She can point out the disaster that happened in the early 2000's when the state took money out of the rainy day fund, and the prospect of a near-term slowdown and refuse to accept that as a source of revenue. Bonds, as have been used in the past to finance things like school construction are generally backed by real assets, so she can refuse to allow the legislature to borrow by way of bonding for that reason. The Governor, who ran in 2002 on a pledge to ask for tax increases only as a last resort, has not once in five years asked for one. And she won't need to now. But she can close all the other doors and in effect force the GOP hardliners who control the legislature to either fail to enforce their own pet bill or raise taxes to pay for it.
On top of that, business leaders, while maintaining a cordial relationship with the Governor, have given Republicans-- even hard core loonies like Pearce-- their support, including their financial support. Of course the Governor has always protected them from some of the more ridiculous bills they passed, such as the law which she vetoed this week which would have required all businesses to buy storage lockers for customers to store their guns. In their Republican pipe dream, they can think about how great having a GOP legislature is while they shovel money at them without having to worry about some of the most odious requirement that they pass on to businesses. If it's too bad, Janet will take care of it. Only this time she didn't. Wonder how much they will donate to Pearce next time around? This bill drives a wedge between Republicans in the legislature and some of their most reliable supporters.
Certainly, had the Federal bill passed last week, Governor Napolitano would have had all the cover she needed to veto the bill. But since she didn't, she has dealt a blow to private schools, is forcing the business community to realize the true cost of supporting some legislators who represent the fringes, and may force Republicans to be the ones to raise taxes.
Not a bad political payout for a day's work.