For three years now, public employee unions have been trying to make it impossible for local governments to seek bankruptcy protection.
This has been a raw political power play to take the federal court option off the table, to force the rare local government that might be on the financial brink to irresponsibly borrow its way out of a crisis rather than seek bankruptcy protection that might lead to changes in unaffordable labor contracts.
Leaders of cities and counties see bankruptcy as an absolute last resort because they recognize the devastating credit consequences and fear the loss of financial control. However, they understandably feel they need to preserve that option just in case, especially as the state's economy continues to be moribund.
Last year, during a showdown in Sacramento, a compromise was worked out -- thanks to the leadership of Sen. Lois Wolk, D-Davis -- in negotiations that involved both houses of the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown.
It sets up a nonbinding, 90-day mediation process involving the local government and interested parties to see if a plan can be developed to avoid bankruptcy.
To us, this seemed like a solution in search of a problem. Since 1949, only two cities and one county in California have filed for bankruptcy. That, however, was the bargain.
Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, D-Fremont, who carried the legislation, originally had tried to ram through a much more far-reaching bill. When the compromise was reached, he called it "a positive and reasonable step to forge an agreement on debt restructuring by municipalities in distress without going into bankruptcy."
Within weeks of the law taking effect, Wieckowski introduced new legislation to undermine the compromise process, which currently is being applied in two financially distressed cities -- Stockton and Mammoth Lakes.
Wieckowski admitted to us this week that he had no information that the process wasn't working as intended in those two cities. In addition, he admitted that he had not talked to any local government organizations involved with last year's compromise.
Local governments had correctly insisted that the mediation process be nonbinding and that it have strict time limits that could only be extended by mutual agreement.
Wieckowski's new, obliquely written bill would alter that. As the mayors of the state's 10 largest cities said in a joint letter this week, "Seeking to undo key parts of (last year's compromise) just months after it was passed does not foster a culture of trust or reliability."
Wieckowski was a key party to last year's negotiations. His bill this year demonstrates an appalling display of bad faith and shows he can't be counted on to keep his word.