You probably haven't heard of Assembly Bill 155. It's a measure that would seem obscure -- whether the state should have to sign off before a city or county declares bankruptcy. But it's spawned a big fight in Sacramento.
Why? Because critics of the bill see it as a play by public employee unions to protect their members from layoffs and benefit cuts imposed during a municipal bankruptcy. AB 155 would require a state commission -- easily controlled by the unions -- to sign off. That would give labor leverage to prevent local bankruptcies from hitting public employees too hard.
Backers of AB 155 counter that California is one of only 11 states that don't require some sign-off from the state for a municipal bankruptcy. With bankruptcy being discussed as a possibility in several California cities, including Los Angeles, the jobs of municipal workers should be protected.
The real contest in local bankrupcies is between employees and taxpayers who rely on government service. Who will feel the heat? AB 155, despite creating a white-hot debate, represents an attempt to keep things cool.