Dan Walters

Dan Walters: Brown honors principle of subsidiarity sometimes

Dan Walters
Dan Walters

Gov. Jerry Brown is fond of articulating “my belief in subsidiarity,” which requires a little interpretation.

German Catholic theologian Oswald von Bell-Breuning developed the principle that government should do only what individuals and private organizations cannot do, and that governmental activities should be as local as possible.

Brown has cited it most often vis-à-vis his plan, adopted by the Legislature, to increase aid to school districts with large numbers of poor and “English learner” students to raise their academic achievement.

Education reformers worried aloud that without tight state control, the extra money in the “local control funding formula” would be siphoned off for teacher salary increases and other broad purposes, but Brown insisted that spending be left largely in local hands.

Brown has continued to tout subsidiarity this year, citing it in spirit or by name in vetoing a number of bills he deemed in violation.

Assembly Bill 1881, for example, would have mandated that unions have membership on city and county employee relations boards in Los Angeles.

Brown vetoed it, calling it “a significant override of local decision-making authority and a departure from my belief in subsidiarity.”

Several of his vetoes involved bills that would have imposed new duties on school districts.

“The Local Control Funding Formula was created because local education agencies are the ones best suited to set goals and guidelines for their students,” Brown said in vetoing Assembly Bill 1886. “In the same vein, efforts to combat truancy are best exercised at the school level among teachers, principals and local school officials.”

If consistently applied, subsidiarity would represent a major reversal of several decades of concentrating authority in Sacramento, ever since Proposition 13, enacted during Brown’s first governorship, restricted the ability of local governments to raise tax revenue.

Brown has not been consistent, however, citing the principle when it’s convenient but ignoring it on other occasions.

In 2011, Brown signed a union-backed bill saying that charter cities would lose state aid for projects if they enacted blanket bans on “project labor agreements,” which virtually mandate that only unionized companies can bid on public works projects.

It was aimed, unsuccessfully, at thwarting a pending ballot measure in San Diego to ban project labor agreements. Two years later, he signed a bill denying state aid to cities that chose not to mandate “prevailing wages” on public works projects.

Brown’s tendency to honor subsidiarity inconsistently continued this year.

While citing it in several vetoes, the governor also signed Assembly Bill 155, requiring the Monterey County Water Resources Agency to use a project labor agreement on a pipeline project – against the agency’s wishes.