Tuesday, July 17, 2012
IN MY OPINION (Column)
Time for Government Employees to Share the Pain
By JON COUPAL
Those who make a good living off the taxpayers’ dime can be quick to demand that others pay their “fair share.” Case in point, SEIU, which represents about 95,000 California state employees, was a big backer of the Occupy movement.
The California economy is in the doldrums, two million workers are unemployed and looming over everything is a $500 billion pension debt that is growing by the day—a debt, by the way, that must be made good by taxpayers. The response from the unions representing California government employees, who are the highest paid in all 50 states, is to demand unconditional surrender from taxpayers. No compromise, no step back on their part. The union bosses want taxpayers to continue to labor like indentured servants, delaying their own retirement and paying higher taxes so that their government employees can retire young enough to start a second career with pensions approaching full pay. (It should be noted that benefits for government employees who retired prior to 1999 are much more modest.)
Taxpayers are now behind the eight-ball because of two devastating actions by the Sacramento politicians. The first was then-Governor Jerry Brown’s 1977 approval of enhanced collective bargaining rights for state workers. The second, in 1999, occurred when Governor Gray Davis signed off on the Legislature’s plan to drastically increase public employee pensions that, according to the experts they consulted, would cost the taxpayers nothing because the stock market would now be close to 30,000, almost three times higher than it is today. (One now wonders if the fiscal prognosticators upon whom the politicians relied were wearing big red clown noses.)
Before you think this is humorous, ask Stockton residents whose city just filed for bankruptcy, mostly because the city is not financially able to meet promises made to employees, whether they are laughing.
Compounding the problem, of course is the fact that any suggestion that government employees help out and pay their fair share toward their own guaranteed pensions is rejected out of hand by the union brass who are accustomed—because of their ability to distribute campaign cash and deliver members’ votes to favored candidates—to being the de facto bosses of the California Democratic Party, the Legislature, and, with their chosen candidate elected governor, the entire state.
Now, partially to meet this mammoth pension burden, Jerry Brown wants to increase sales and income taxes. And, in an attempt to show the public that the state deserves more money, he is has proposed some reforms to deal with the radically out-of-balance pension system. But proposing is one thing, actually expending political capital to see it through is another.
In a recent column authored by John Kabateck of the National Federation of Independent Business, Joel Fox of the Small Business Action Committee and myself, we speculated that the governor and the government employee unions were about to agree on some relatively meaningless reforms, declare victory and push forward promoting the governor’s $50 billion tax increase that will appear on the November ballot.
Turns out, the three of us underestimated the bloated self-assurance and arrogance of the union power brokers. They have flatly rejected any reform plan, no matter how weak. Apparently, “fair share” is something to be paid by others—which translates as “taxpayers.”
Still, in future weeks, if it appears that the governor’s tax proposition will fail (the polling suggests that it is on life support) the unions may decide that a cosmetic concession or two is worth the additional tax revenue that can be devoted to increased pay and benefits. Heaven forbid that the gravy train grinds to a stop.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company