For a sharp and historically informed analysis of the pension follies of state Democratic lawmakers, no one is going to top Jerry Roberts' and Phil Trounstine's piece on Calbuzz. Let’s be blunt. Democrats, whose political livelihoods have steadily and increasingly become dependent on union money since Jerry Brown in his first term signed the legislation that gave state employees collective bargaining rights, are terrified of moving an inch on pensions without permission and marching orders from the labor groups that finance their campaigns. But while it's great to see this pointed out by practically the only contrarian voices in the progressive media, I still have two gripes with Jerry and Phil. The first is that they essentially echo the union talking point that the pension crisis has been exaggerated: As a practical matter, pension reform is not the most pressing fiscal issue facing the state, as we’ve stipulated before. But as a practical matter, guys, pension reform is absolutely the most pressing fiscal issue facing many local governments. No one should ever say that the state's not in a horrible position short term without also quickly adding but that's not true for Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco, San Diego, etc. And here's my second gripe: When will someone in California's progressive media point out that programs for the poor are bearing far more of the pain in recent state budgets than employee compensation? Instead, we see this pretend game that holds compensation has been slashed for years -- coverage that never points out most public employees get automatic raises just for time served on the job until they have reached the top level in their job classification. I recently pointed out 60 percent-plus of San Diego Unified's teachers got "step" increases in each of the last three years for which their pay was reduced by furloughs. Why isn't this sort of data presented WITH EVERY LAST STORY about employee compensation? Instead, as someone who's read the L.A. Times for 22 years and the Sac Bee for 17, I can tell you that I literally don't recall a single article in either of the two papers that thoroughly covered this angle. Partisanship? Incompetence? Stupidity? A combo of the three? Who knows. But this info is crucial and important and "contextual," to use the trendy term from the ombud set. Roberts and Trounstine have dared to cross the unions by being "contextual" on pension reform. Now if only the Evan Halpers and Judy Lins of the world would follow suit on local and state government pay practices. At a time wen the saftey net is being gutted, it's not partisan analysis to point out what those practices say about how 21st-century California Democrats define "social justice." It's bleeping obvious.
Even before he quit the Republican Party in March, San Diego Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher had come into the cross hairs of influential Flashreport publisher Jon Fleischman and Steven Greenhut, the Sacramento-based libertarian think tanker, editor and pundit with a national following. Now, as an independent mayoral candidate in today's elections in San Diego, Fletcher has lived up to their warnings. He's essentially teamed up with public employee unions against San Diego's leading critic of the government status quo, rival mayoral candidate Carl DeMaio. I provide the grisly details here at Cal Watchdog. [DeMaio's} assault on the San Diego City Hall status quo has produced a vicious response from individual union members and union organizations. DeMaio and his supporters were taunted and harassed while gathering signatures for a sweeping benefits reform measure that’s on Tuesday’s ballot as Proposition B. The first-term councilman, who is gay, has also been baited for his sexual orientation and subjected to an ugly whispering campaign. Last week, the city police union began airing a grossly misleading attack ad that implied DeMaio didn’t think the families of dead cops should get survivor benefits. But the perverse twist is which mayoral candidate has been the unions’ main partner in assaulting DeMaio in defense of the status quo. It’s not [veteran Democratic congressman Bob] Filner, the abrasive, in-your-face traditional 1960s liberal. It’s Fletcher, a photogenic 35-year-old Marine war hero who until two months ago was a conservative Republican with some maverick trappings. After DeMaio shocked many observers by capturing the local GOP’s formal endorsement over the more experienced [county District Attorney Bonnie] Dumanis and more conventional Fletcher, Fletcher dropped his party affiliation and insisted it wasn’t driven by expedience but by his conscience. To the cheers of New York Times columnist David Brooks, Fletcher declared he could no longer in good faith be a member of a party that was part of a dysfunctional political dynamic dominated by “extremists.” Ever since, Fletcher has offered up DeMaio as an example of the “extremists” who are polluting California’s body politic — even as Fletcher has supported Proposition B, the sweeping benefits reform measure largely authored by DeMaio that can fairly be described as radical. It would shift all new city hires but police to 401(k)-type retirement benefits and seek to impose a five-year cap on the “pensionable pay” of all employees. ... Meanwhile, he’s kept his opinions to himself about the extremism on display in the union-led campaigns against Proposition A, which would ban the city’s use of project labor agreements unless doing so would lead to the loss of state or federal funds, and against Proposition B. To undercut Proposition A, unions got the Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown to enact a law that takes state construction funds away from charter cities with PLA bans. That’s extraordinary enough, but it doesn’t compare to Sacramento’s reaction to Proposition B. The state Public Employment Relations Board, controlled by union allies, sought unsuccessfully to keep the measure off the ballot and has made clear its intention to scuttle the measure should it pass. Why? On the grounds that since some elected officials helped draft Proposition B, it amounted to a violation of collective-bargaining rights. By this bizarre standard, just about any attempt by the public to use the ballot process to directly control public employees’ pay and compensation can be deemed a violation of employee rights. For those on the outside looking in, this union bullying and intimidation may seem so grotesque and over the top that it verges on the comic. But for those who live anywhere else in California, don’t feel inclined to cackle. Today the target is unlucky San Diego, but soon it will be your community. In many ways, I remain an admirer of Nathan Fletcher. His work on Chelsea's Law was exemplary. It wasn't just a knee-jerk ramping up of prison sentences in response to a terrible crime. It was a thoughtful attempt to refocus the corrections system in a pragmatic way, a sincere attempt to target the real bad guys and get away from the warehousing of non-threats that is the preferred approach of California's prison-industrial complex. But I am baffled, sincerely baffled, if Fletcher honestly believes that his present course is the way to solve California's problems, as opposed to a way to help him climb the political ladder. Unless you're on his payroll, it's tough not to be cynical about his actions.
Some 225 years ago, when empress Catherine the Great visited the Crimea region, legend has it that a Russian public official named Potemkin ordered construction of "villages" that looked great from afar but were actually just facades. Think the fake small town the good guys built in "Blazing Saddles." Now many California school districts are beginning their Potemkin village-ization. To cover compensation costs that top 90 percent or more of operating budgets, everything must go until there are just facades of schools left. Everything must go, that is, but pay and pensions for veteran and retired teachers. The latest example comes from Los Angeles Unified: Facing unrelenting budget pressure, Los Angeles Unified has pared its summer school program - again - to its smallest size ever, with only a limited number of courses available to failing high school students who need to make up classes to graduate. Credit-recovery classes will be offered at just 16 of the district's nearly 100 high schools, with online classes hosted at eight campuses. Only seniors who have received a "D" or "F" in a required subject like health or algebra and sophomores and juniors who have failed one of those core classes can enroll. Unlike past summers, credit-recovery classes will not be offered at LAUSD's adult schools, which are on the chopping block because of a $390 million deficit facing the district. District officials hope California voters will pass a sales-tax hike and local voters will pass a $298-a-year parcel tax so they can salvage the adult schools. "We're in a horrible (financial) bind from the state," Assistant Superintendent Alvaro Cortes said Wednesday. "We've been going through this for the last four years, and it's not going to get any better." The last paragraph is just pure manure. It is not the state's fault that California public schools almost uniformly award automatic raises based on years on the job. In San Diego Unified, for example, the last contract I saw provides automatic 3.8 percent annual raises for 15 of the first 20 years a teacher is on the job. That is in addition to raises teacher unions win through collective bargaining. In San Diego Unified, in 2012-13, teachers will get phased-in raises that add up to 7.2 percent. And no surprise, San Diego Unified, the second largest state school district after L.A. Unified, is also undergoing Potemkin Village-ization: The San Diego school board voted to eliminate nearly 1,000 nonteaching positions Tuesday night .... . Under the San Diego Unified School District’s preliminary budget, more than 1,600 teachers and well over 1,000 full and part-time nonteaching employees — including classroom assistants, cafeteria workers, and office clerks — will be laid off next year. ... Lost in the districtwide protests against the teacher layoffs that cover 20 percent of the elementary teaching force has been the hit to San Diego Unified’s early childhood education program that would lose state funding under California’s preliminary budget. Of the district’s 185 state-funded prekindergarten teachers, 150 received pink slips. The program serves students from low-income San Diego families and helps prepare them for kindergarten by teaching language, social and physical skills, and identifying students with special needs. Some 385 nonteaching jobs at the child development centers have also been cut. So once again, can someone tell me how teacher unions are all about social justice? There used to be a document on the San Diego Unified website that showed the district was on track to spend 102 percent -- 102 percent!!! -- of its operating budget on pay and benefits. I can't find it now. But that is still the best example ever of what I've been whining about for years. When the Potemkin village-ization of California public schools is complete, thanks to insane pay policies, all available money will go to employee and ex-employee compensation. 102 percent, for you non-math majors out there, is more than 100 percent.
This Chris Reed fella, writing in the L.A. Daily News, has some good news about the California High-Speed Rail Authority: Why would the [California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers] turn on their normal allies and oppose plans for the bullet train? Because of the growing evidence that Gov. Jerry Brown thinks the only plausible way to fund the project is with the fees that heavy industries pay for the right to pollute under AB 32, the state's landmark 2006 anti-global warming law. The state Legislative Analyst's Office expects the fees from the "cap and trade" system to generate billions of dollars annually -- perhaps as much as $14 billion by 2015. There are plenty of legal precedents that appear to limit how the fees can be used. Since they are gathered to help fight pollution and reduce global warming, state finance officials say the fees must be spent for that purpose. But anyone who expects this argument to inhibit the CTA and the CFT from trying to get their hands on this immense new revenue source is hopelessly naive. .... Lawmakers in Sacramento won't get in the unions' way. Why would they start behaving honestly and ethically now? Read the whole column here. There is a very basic and obvious ploy that the CTA and CFT can use to grab AB 32 fees. Good column. I could read that guy all day and never get tired of his whining.
Here's my latest column for Cal Watchdog: Just as red and blue have become associated with Republicans and Democrats, respectively, because of Election Night maps, will green someday become a synonym for fraud and dishonesty? After listening to Jerry Brown's two years of lies, prevarications and fantasies about "green jobs," I hope so. It would be semantic justice. What brings this to mind is the latest fusillade of flapdoodle from Gov. Brown and his aides. On Friday, speaking in Goleta at The Wall Street Journal's annual ECO:nomics conference, Brown offered warm words for himself. The governor praised the governor for the governor's determination to revive California's rotten economy by creating vast numbers of green jobs. It was all a recycling of the rhetoric Brown has offered since securing the Democratic nomination for governor in early 2010: A commitment to renewable energy will create more than 500,000 jobs and get Californians working again! Message: Jerry cares! But in an environmentally responsible way! But two years later, there is simply no evidence of a green economic revolution in the Golden State. Unemployment remains among the worst in the nation. Meanwhile, a new U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report waterboards the assumption that California is a green jobs powerhouse, saying the state is about average in green employment. Yes, "clean tech," as it's known in San Diego, has proven to be a modest economic engine, and in fact it's quite plausible that revolutionary energy technologies could emerge from a lab somewhere in California. But serious economists and business analysts, as opposed to Brown, predecessor Arnold Schwarzenegger and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, acknowledge that green energy will never be a mass employer akin to the auto, steel or aviation industries. A 2010 study by the respected McKinsey consulting group warned governments not to assume "green" jobs would ever be more than a niche in the economy akin to semiconductor manufacturing. Even the leftist Brookings Institution, in a 2011 study, warned of unrealistic expectations and said "green" jobs grew more slowly than general employment from 2003 to 2010. These studies and basic data on jobs and growth prompted a remarkable news analysis last summer in The New York Times that said Brown's green jobs forecast and President Barack Obama's promise of 5 million new green jobs nationally appeared to be a "pipe dream." Alas, the cuts in the newsroom budgets of the Sacramento Bee and Los Angeles Times appear to have included their subscriptions to The New York Times. Even as reporters for both of the state's most powerful newspapers finally have figured out that another putatively green initiative -- the bullet train -- is a fiasco, they continue to enthusiastically print the governor's green balderdash. You'd think coverage of an "ECO:nomics" conference that featured a governor congratulating himself on green job creation might bother to include some relevant facts, such as the Brookings Institution's discovery that there were actually fewer green jobs in Silicon Valley in 2010 than 2003. But no. L.A. Times reporter Ricardo Garcia didn't think it was relevant in his Friday account. Meanwhile, the Sacramento Bee's David Siders did manage to allow some real-world events to flavor his Saturday story about Brown's grand plans for solar power, noting the vast problems facing a proposed solar plant in Blythe that the governor just last year predicted would be a "really big" boost to jobs and growth. But Siders -- a naif who wrote a puff piece about the bullet train CEO just two weeks before the incompetent rail official was forced to resign -- also included in his March 24 article a paragraph of spin from a Brown official that had me roaring with laughter. "In theory, the fact that we're having failures is actually a sign that the market's working – that we have some comfort because there's a lot of people out there, and out of this the best projects will probably emerge," said Michael Picker, a senior adviser to Brown on renewable energy. The bad news? Hey, it's actually good news. What the market is saying, of course, is that it's still got profound doubts about the practicality and cost of renewable energy -- even with the billions of dollars thrown at it by the Obama administration, even with promises of future subsidies, even with regulatory relief not granted to less sainted industries. Did Siders bother to cite the McKinsey or Brookings reports? Did he look at all the various factors The New York Times cited in pronouncing green jobs a "pipe dream"? Did he note that there is in fact an energy jobs boom going on right now -- but, as The New York Times reports, it's in fossil fuels? Nope. He let Brown's aide depict green failure as green success. Only in California, global headquarters for the cult that is environmentalism, could coverage of green energy be so half-assed that I would yearn for it to be outsourced to The New York Times.
I was busy bonding with my new phone last week and never got around to writing about the nauseating story that described Gov. Jerry Brown as still a "rock star" on the national political scene. Maybe that holds with the naifs in the D.C. media, but here in California, Brown is far more accurately seen as a crock star. The gov nurses his image as a unique visionary, but the narrative is pure buncombe. Jerry defines his main role in the same way as all other machine Democrats in Sacramento: insulating public employees from budget pain by any means necessary, starting with preserving the absurd K-12 status quo that bases pay on seniority and irrelevant graduate coursework. Did you ever wonder why his tax hike plan is built entirely around the idea that it is crucial to funding public schools? Because teachers are the only public employees left who still have a good image -- deserved or not. Now he's putting down Molly Munger, even though her rival tax-hike-for-schools initiative is actually willing to acknowledge schools need reforming. Brown? His definition of reform is going back to local control -- the same horrible arrangement that midwifed No Child Left Behind. Meanwhile, the gov pushes cuts to social services that are so brutal that federal courts say no way. Why? Public employees need their pay and benefits. Poor people can get by with less. They're lesser people, as far as Jerry is concerned. He starves local governments of resources, both with cause (redevelopment) and without (prison "realignment"). Why? State employees need their pay and benefits. Bleep local yokels. They're probably wasting the money they have. Yes, Jerry is pretty good on pensions. But he has no choice because of events. Stockton is only going to be the first of many local governments to go under. Action needs to be taken in Sacramento. The Maviglio myths about the problems being exaggerated or non-existent can't defeat hard math when it comes to the reality of all the local governments heading off the cliff. I don't think what I've written above is wacky right-wing stuff at all. It fits with what I hear from insiders on the left and on the right. There's a desperation in Sacramento about keeping the old status quo alive. But when will this show up in the stories about the budget that don't give the backdrop to what's going on -- the real backdrop? Why isn't it news that Jerry Brown is targeting the safety net more than any governor in history? Because the official narrative is that Jerry's different, not a union hack. Groan. I just wish the Nixon-goes-to-China meme would someday, somehow migrate from politicians to journalists. When will anyone who covers Sacramento for the mainstream media ever write the bald truth that Democrats define social justice as being about helping public employees, with the greens and trial lawyers getting the leftovers and poor people getting thinly disguised contempt? Criticize Republicans all you want. Say they believe in fantasies like "trickle down" and don't care about poor people. Rip them for their retrograde social conservatism or their flip-flopping on lots of issues or the fact that they're not nearly the free-market purists they pretend. But that doesn't excuse how California's elected Dems use their clout. They are supposed to be state-of-the-art liberals, inspiring the progressive movement throughout America. The ones in Sacramento are anything but. They'd rather blind people make do on $350 a month than inconvenience public employees. They prefer teacher pay be based on attendance and make-work graduate studies instead of performance -- and that perverts and dimwits should have vast job protections from administrators -- rather than bother worrying about the effects bad teachers have on struggling kids from poor families. And now we're watching the early stages of one more absurd Sacramento scenario that confirms anew how the Democrats who control the Capitol are all about public employees and public employees only. I refer to the fact that AB 32, the state's landmark anti-global warming law, will start generating billions in coming years as companies pay for the right to pollute. We used to be told the money would be distributed to poor people to help them deal with the higher energy costs that AB 32 would inevitably yield. Yeah, sure, something that pure was going to happen. Now the other shoe has dropped -- and I'm hearing the billions from AB 32 fees are targeted for the general fund. In other words, for public employee compensation. You surprised? Then you're hopelessly naive. This is California. Public employees > poor people, including the blind and deaf. Public employees > anything. Jerry Brown operates from this premise, the same way Darrell Steinberg does, the same way John Perez does. If this means the governor is a "rock star," then the concussion epidemic extends far beyond the NFL.
This writer is one savvy son of a gun: The proposal of a Democratic assemblyman to keep students from eating at food trucks instead of school cafeterias is ostensibly about public health, obesity and food safety. But while nanny state motives may be in play, it’s also easy to see this as the latest conscience-free effort to keep as much money as possible coming to public schools by any means necessary. Districts statewide face a constant struggle to find enough money for the salaries and benefits of their adult employees. In that sense, targeting food trucks is just like targeting charter schools’ funding. It’s all about preserving the status quo — and one more example of the pervasive moral bankruptcy that the California education establishment displays whenever it comes to money or accountability. More here.
Every now and then a story comes along that precisely illustrates what would happen to California taxpayers if -- when facing budget problems -- two-thirds of the Legislature and the governor could take the easy way out and raise taxes instead of cutting and reforming programs, and ending automatic pay raises and unjustifiable retirement benefits that exist solely as a function of union political power. The Sac Bee story about how traffic tickets cost vastly more then their nominal penalty is a perfect example. What? You think it's your money, not the government's? Fool. And you think the government will act fairly when it deals with you and your money? Sap. As the Bee story makes plain, the fact the Legislature can raise fees on a simple majority vote has made for some pretty crazy hidden fees: When you pay a citation, you aren't just paying for your errant act. The Legislature has, for years, been adding fees to finance dozens of programs, some that aren't even related to driving safety. ... [Consider] running a stop sign. That's Vehicle Code Section 22450. The base fine is $35. But you'll pay $236. Why? Because, per the Bee, the original $35 base fine goes mainly to city and county general funds. Other mouths need to be fed: The state, along with the county, makes a bundle off you nonetheless, thanks to an $80 state penalty assessment that's tacked on. Much of that $80 goes to the state's trial court fund and the state courts construction fund. Ten dollars of it goes to the local county's general fund, to be used any way the county wishes. Some of it gets put into the county courthouse construction fund. Seven of those dollars go to the county's jail construction fund. A few dollars go to the county fingerprint fund, and $7 goes to an account that reimburses doctors and hospitals for unpaid emergency care for crash victims and others. But as the Bee notes, the Legislature isn't done yet. There are all kinds more of hidden ludicrous fees. You'll chip $7 directly into the state general fund via what's called the state criminal surcharge. ... They even charge you $10 to reimburse the county court for the cost of searching the DMV database to see if you have prior convictions. There's $8 you pay into a state court construction fund called the Immediate and Critical Needs Account. And add on a $4 fee for the Emergency Air Medical Transportation Act. If you think that's all, you're nuts. The Democrats and unions who control the Legislature allegedly hate regressive taxes but they love them some regressive fees. Per the Bee, you also .... ... pay a "criminal conviction assessment" of $35 that also helps pay for state court construction .... [and] $40 for what used to be the local court security fee (such as X-ray machines at the doors). It's been expanded to cover court operations costs. You'll chip $16 into the state's DNA testing program. Finally, you pay $1 to fund the county night court.. By my count, the $35 fee for running a stop sign has 11 additional levels slapped onto it by the Legislature and by local govs it delegates authority to. ELEVEN! Now imagine if the California Legislature had the same power to raise taxes as it did fees. What would it do? Well, we have a very good parallel to look at: what the liberal, union-beholden New York state legislature did in 2009 when facing a vast revenue gap. It actually chose to increase spending by $10 billion -- and paid for it with ... ... 20-plus increases in taxes, fees, surcharges and assessments. Income taxes were raised on the rich. A popular state program providing rebates of $200 to $900 to homeowners on their school property taxes was eliminated. An extra 1 percent tax was added on utility bills. New taxes were imposed on HMOs; health and auto insurance; and tobacco retailers. The excise tax on beer and wine went from 11 cents to 14 cents per gallon. A 5-cent-per-bottle deposit was put on plastic water bottles. Fees to register cars and boats and to get a driver's, hunting or fishing license all went up. That's from a blog post I wrote in May 2009. I know a popular current trope on the left and in the media is to rail against Mitt Romney and the Citizens United decision and the idea that corporations are people with speech rights. But why won't the media look at what the fees story and the New York state story say about Democrats and unions and how they look at the 300 million-plus people in this country? If the right is going to be mocked for defining corporations as people, shouldn't the left be mocked for defining poor, working-class and middle-class people as revenue machines? As the "I will work harder"/Boxer/"Animal Farm" exploited class of modern politics? The left's relentless stealth embrace of regressive taxes at the local and state level should matter, and it should be reported on. Why? Because at the local and state government level, the whole progressive aura of the U.S. left is an immense crock. The $236 real cost of a ticket for running a stop sign is a killer to the 99 percent, not the 1 percent. But in California, the most regressive taxes and fees of all are welcome if they keep the spigot flowing for public employee pay and benefits. If this is social justice, social justice is a joke.
When will the media finally figure out that the most powerful groups on the California left -- public employees and environmentalists -- use poor people as political props to get their way? Deny teachers their raises based on seniority and accumulation of meaningless graduate credits and you're "punishing the kids" -- no matter what the facts are. Get in the way of climate change policies? Then you're a heartless cad who doesn't realize that "low-income communities in California are more vulnerable to climate change-related health risks." But what about the huge likelihood that AB 32's main effect will be to impoverish poor people? Instead of prompting the rest of the world to follow California's lead in switching to cleaner but costlier energy, the geniuses in Sacramento are on the brink of punishing the needy -- all so rich greens in West L.A. and the Bay Area can feel good about their purity. Great, just great. Remember, the preliminary estimate of the impact of AB 32 on the state's three big utilities was that the electricity costs they pass on to consumers would go up by at least 41 percent to 60 percent by 2020. Given how much of poor families' income is eaten up by energy costs, especially in hotter inland areas, this is a body blow to millions of struggling Californians. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the amount Americans spent on household electricity is already at a 15-year high, and in California, it's going to dramatically spike higher. Then also remember that it wasn't a right-wing "climate denier" who warned of the huge economic risk of a unilateral shift to costlier energy. It was U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who told Congress in 2009 that if the U.S. undertook such a shift but its trading partners didn't, the U.S. should launch a trade war. Here in California, however, with the aid of a clueless media that might as well be a paid wing of the NRDC, Chu's warning is never discussed. Pass the Green Kool-Aid! Not only will AB 32 not hurt the economy, it will trigger a job boom! Don't you understand? Higher energy prices are intrinsically a good thing! (Someone better tell the federal Energy Information Administration this is the case. It says higher energy prices are a drag on the economy, slowing growth and prompting inflation. Duh.) Now I certainly understand the argument that poor people suffer disproportionately because of pollution's effects, and I concede that sure, there are some sincere greens who are deeply motivated by this fact. But when the policies that green groups muscle into place create a man-made drought and depression in the Central Valley, drive off dozens of companies, discourage business expansion and give California the second highest unemployment rate of any state, their sincerity is unimportant. They're hurting people to save snail darters and to feel good about their worldwide leadership on global warming, even though this leadership has no practical effect on global warming. But will the media of the Golden State ever point out this disconnect between the social justice rhetoric of the left and the practical effect of the policies of the left? Nah. Life in the green tank is good, evidently. And just think of all the dirty looks you'd get in the newsroom if you dared to point out that AB 32's main effect is going to be making poor people's lives more difficult. I used to think it was just economic illiteracy and the inadequacy of a liberal arts education that led so many journalists to believe that broadly higher energy prices not borne by our economic competitors will somehow be good for California's economy. But maybe peer pressure is the key to this epic parade of stupidity. The cool guys and gals believe the green gibberish. Hey, it must be true!
According to legendary psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, a crucial stage of individual development comes from ages 5 to 13, as kids begin to develop complex interpretive skills and moral values and learn the importance of being industrious and serious of purpose. They leave childish fantasy, stubbornness and denial behind, adjusting to the world as it really is. Which brings me to Senate President Darrell Steinberg: Was he locked in a pantry from age 5 to 13? In asserting that only the "far right" want profound changes to public employee pensions, Steinberg is displaying a level of fantasy and denial more appropriate to a kindergartner than a powerful political leader. Yo, Darrell: A December PPIC poll shows 68 percent of the public backs switching new public employees to 401(k)-type benefits -- including 64 percent of public employees! This is from the O.C. Register account of the poll: On changing the pension systems for new employees from guaranteed payouts (as we have now) to a defined contribution system similar to a 401(k) plan, 68 percent of adults said yes, and so did 64 percent of public employees. In recent years, this public embrace of fundamental pension changes has been fueled by scandals, local and state budget crises, and envy. But a strong case for huge changes exists even without these factors, because a closer look at the rationales for taxpayer-punishing defined-benefit pensions for public employees shows they no longer remotely hold up,. The old theory rationalizing the generous pensions was that they were necessary because public employees were paid so little they couldn't save for retirement. USA Today and other journalistic groups have long since obliterated that claim: The newspaper probe relied on 2009 data (that) showed that federal civil servants received average pay and benefits of $123,049 while private workers made $61,051 in total compensation. ... federal civilian employees received an average salary of $81,258 and benefits worth $41,791. Private-sector workers got $50,462 in pay and $10,589 in benefits. Officials from public employee unions and some economists dismiss the compensation comparisons. They say the gap reflects the increasingly high level of skill and education required for most federal jobs and the government contracting out many lower-paying jobs to the private sector. Another report by USA Today focused on salaries alone. It compared the 2008 pay for 40 occupations that exist in both the federal government and private sector, as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Federal employees earned an average salary of $67,691 while private workers, in the same mix of jobs were paid an average $60,046. That’s a difference of $7,645. And they got an average of four times as much in benefits. Similar studies at the state level have shown similar apples-to-apples gaps between public pay and the private sector. So what have apologists for the pension status quo done? They've changed their main argument to the claim that government agencies would suffer a mass brain drain of talented employees if pay were frozen and benefits reduced for public employees. But this is bunk, as I wrote in 2009: With the exception of law enforcement officers and a handful of niche positions, there is no market demand for public employees. Nor are these employees clamoring to leave. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports job turnover is tiny in the public sector compared with the private sector. The truth that's waiting to be discovered is that public employee pay in nearly every category could be frozen for years, with new hires being given standard 401(k)-style private sector benefits, with no disruptions for local and state governments. In Orange County, after its 1994 bankruptcy, de facto pay freezes were in place for years. Did county workers flee? No, not at all. Because there was no demand for those workers -- and because even after years without raises, even in the booming late 1990s, county workers were content because their compensation was really, really good and they didn't think they could do as well elsewhere. Once all this is on the table, it becomes obvious that in California, public employee compensation is first and foremost a function of public employee union political power. It is not a coincidence that the most powerful political force in the Golden State is the California Teachers Association and that our teachers are the second-highest-paid in of any state. Yet Steinberg says only the "far right" wants to change this sad state of affairs -- this status quo that distorts how California is run to the benefit of government employees and the detriment of everyone else. But then that's what the former union attorney has to say if he wants to keep his job as one of the main tax collectors for the union state. Peddling fantasy and living in denial amount to job requirements for the president of the California Senate.