Thursday, February 12, 2009
IN MY OPINION (Column) :
Shared Sacrifice in the Golden State
By JON COUPAL
Body A couple of weeks ago, the governor and legislative leaders took time out from the self-proclaimed budget crisis — the governor has called it “financial Armageddon” — to journey across the continent to participate in the inaugural festivities. Although we have our doubts about President Obama — starting with the pork laden stimulus package — there were a couple of nuggets of wisdom in his inaugural address.
To begin with, Obama praised the selflessness of workers who, to help us get through dark times, “would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job.” This, of course, is anathema to Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate Pro Tem Daryl Steinberg.
While supporting higher taxes for all, they have been staunchly resisting the governor’s proposal that state workers take an unpaid two-day furlough each month to help us through our cash flow problem. This, in spite of the fact that the Census Bureau lists California public employees as the highest paid in the nation.
Taxpayers hope that our state leaders were attentive the next day as well when the president told his staff, “However long we are keepers of the public trust we should never forget we are here as public servants and public service is a privilege.” It is not about yourself, he added. The president also spoke of using precious tax dollar wisely and the importance of government belt tightening, at a time when Americans are tightening theirs.
He followed up by signing a presidential order establishing a moratorium on raises for senior staff making more than $100,000.
Well, it’s a start. It is interesting to note that that about 17,500 state workers make a six-figure base salary.
In contrast, both Bass and Steinberg have equivocated when it comes to limiting the budgets for their own offices. And even the governor, in spite of his tough talk, has been freely making appointments of old friends and former legislative allies to non-vital — and probably unnecessary — state boards and commissions that pay generous six figure salaries in return for attending occasional meetings.
A major problem for taxpayers is that our legislative leaders regard state employment as a jobs program. Jobs for them and for their supporters in the public employee unions. Contrary to the statement of the president, they regard government service as being all about them, not as the president said, “simply and absolutely about advancing the interests of Americans.”
Most taxpayers do not object to good pay for public employees. The problem begins when average hardworking citizens, many of whom are struggling to hang on to their jobs with the state unemployment rate now at 9.3 percent, see state workers, who in theory work for them, doing much better than they are in terms of pay and job security.
With the state facing a $42 billion deficit and calls from the Legislature and governor for tax increases to close the gap, most California working people do not want to see their taxes go up so that public employees can continue to ride the gravy train.
Whatever comes from current efforts to clean up the budget mess, there will be no permanent solution until our elected officials change their attitudes about what constitutes public service, both for them and the public employees.
(The writer is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.)
Copyright 2009, Metropolitan News Company