A new populist wave has swept the country but it has become clear that most California politicians, particularly the Democrat controlled establishment, are out of touch with the mood of electorate and continue to put the desires of the state’s public employee unions and special interests above the public’s interest.
It is becoming clear to all who pay attention in California that the desires and wishes of the state’s public servants and the special interests who fund Democrat campaigns, come before the public interest.
This trend has become painfully clear in almost every faucet of government in California—the public interest comes last, and the desires of politicians, public servants and the special interests they represent come first. Of course, California Democrat politicians love to say that the reverse is true, but this façade is slowly collapsing under its own weight.
Let’s take a look at the facts. In 2016, the California Democrat establishment told us that we need to pass Prop. 55 which was essentially a $8 to $11 billion general tax increase on small businesses and individuals. Prop. 55, which passed in November 2016, was supposed to forestall some $4 billion in cuts to public schools.
But now the budget is $6 billion below projections, yet these these same Democrat politicians, namely the California Governor, turned around and granted exorbitant raises and benefit packages to the state’s public employees, which already make as much as two or three times what their counterparts make in the private sector.
In 2016, a proposed contract for the government’s largest union, SEIU 1000, included a package of special pay increases that will increase their salaries by as much as 19% in 2017. The biggest gains go to financial experts working for departments such as Calpers, who will receive a 15% salary increase on top of the 4% that all SEIU 1000 employees will get in 2017, according to a report by the Sacramento Bee.
SEIU’s contract also includes a $2,500 bonus paid in 2016, a 4% raise in 2017, a 4% raise in 2018, and a 3.5% raise in 2019. These raises well exceed inflation and are not based on any type of scientific salary survey which would find that most of these employees are paid roughly double what their counterparts in the private sector make.
Furthermore, a recent study by the California Policy Center found exactly that—specifically that the average pay and benefits for California’s full-time state and local public employees in 2015 was $121,843. “This is nearly twice what the average full-time private sector worker made in pay and benefits during 2015, $62,475,” states the report.
But perhaps most troubling is that state and local workers enjoy unheard of work rules and almost zero accountability for underperformance, compared to their private sector counterparts.
In the private sector, underperforming workers are commonly fired or laid off if they do not perform. But in the public sector in California, outdated pro-union laws, make it impossible to fire public servants for underperformance. The result is that many public servants can simply sit at their desk and collect a paycheck, regardless of what their superiors might dislike about their complete lack of performance or underperformance.
There have also recently been a series of highly publicized reports of teachers molesting and abusing children, yet these practices continued until outside lawsuits were brought which forced law enforcement officials to step in. Ideally, initial complaints should have resulted in the immediate termination of such dangerous employees.
So while the state’s roads crumble and tax rates surpass record levels, public servants in California continue to collect checks that far exceed just compensation, and also receive retirement packages that commonly cost 80-100% of payroll if the unfunded costs are included, along with generous health care and benefit packages.
Recent data obtained from the City of San Francisco found that on straight salary alone, public servants are compensated at rates exceeding 20-100% of salary, and if benefit costs are included, these overall costs are consistent with the findings of the study by the California Policy Center—one of the state’s leading independent research institutions, and one of the only policy research institutions in the state that is not completely captured by the existing political establishment.
Sacramento Democrat politicians talk about California’s uniqueness, but perhaps only thing truly unique thing about government in the Golden State is the 24-karat gold pay and benefit packages that the state’s Democrat political establishment continues to award to the state’s 400,000 plus public employees, and hundreds of thousands of local government employees.
Taxpayers would certainly cry foul if the state, at taxpayer expense, paved the streets with gold, but that is essentially the treatment that California politicians have done with public employee salaries and benefits.
In the previous two years alone, Stanford University estimates that the state’s total unfunded liabilities for pension benefits for public employees has increased from less than $1 trillion in 2014 to more than $1.4 trillion in 2016---a 40% increase. All of this debt will have to be erased via bankruptcy or at taxpayer expense—likely both.
Yet we hear blowhard California Democrat politicians talk about the uniqueness of California’s “progressive” policies. But these progressive policies are not serving the poor and underprivileged, they are serving the state’s public servants and their public employee unions who control California government.
More than 1/3 of the state lives in poverty, according to new data, wouldn't it be more progressive to start paying public employees what they are worth so we have the money to fund the state's real priorities?
It’s time for California government to truly put our voters and taxpayers first by getting serious about out of control and unsustainable public employee compensation in the Golden State, and stop rewarding the powerful special interests who control the California Democrat establishment.
David Kersten is the president of the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy.