Even after eight years of economic expansion, California counties continue to struggle to keep budgets in check under the growing strain of retirement and medical costs for public employees. But that problem would grow substantially worse under a contemptuous bill now working its way through the halls of the state Legislature.

Assembly Bill 1250 by Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, would severely limit the ability of counties to contract with community-based organizations, nonprofits and other groups to provide homeless shelters, mental health care and other services that local governments are not set up to provide on their own.

Why? The intent is clear. This bill, supported by public employee unions, would essentially force counties to use only public employees to deliver services. It would raise costs or, worse, force governments to give up on providing some needed services.

AB 1250l is nothing more than a power grab — and money grab — by public employees, and it needs to be defeated. But that won’t be easy. The bill was approved by the Assembly in June and is now in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Backers herald the bill as a cost-savings measure and claim it wouldn’t prevent contracting with non-government groups if doing results in demonstrated savings. But opponents say the language for calculating savings and the process for determining bidders is burdensome and weighted against outside contractors. For example, the bill would place a new set of disclosure mandates on nonprofits and other local businesses concerning personal information about employees and administrators, requirements that are likely to discourage some from even pursing a contact.

In the original version of this bill, cities were included, but they were carved out before passage in the Assembly. Now other exemptions are being made. For example, state Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, gave his approval in the Government and Finance Committee only after receiving an exemption for Santa Clara County for health and social service contracts connected to Covered California, an exemption that, according to County Executive Jeff Smith, would save the county “hundreds of millions of dollars.” But many other counties, including this one, would get no such pass.

This is government at its worst, with legislators being pushed into indefensible votes by powerful public employee unions that stand to benefit the most. And taxpayers and needy residents pay the price.

AB 1250 is opposed by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors as well as supervisors in Marin, Mendocino, Napa and just about all counties in the state. In addition it is opposed by a broad coalition of organizations including the California District Attorneys Association, the California State Sheriffs’ Association, the First 5 Association of California, the California Hospital Association and many groups that provide foster care, mental health care and other services for children, youth, and seniors.

The fact is counties rely on contractors to help provide an array of public services and other needs, to ensure the biggest bang for the taxpayer buck. And protections are already in place to ensure a fair and transparent bidding process.

AB 1250 is seeking to solve a problem that doesn’t exist. And if it passes, it could make a major problem that does exist — namely, soaring pension costs — far worse. It must be spiked.