Striking a Balance

During recent budget negotiations the governor stated that California needs to strike a balance between the interests of government employee unions and the interests of taxpayers. He’d better act fast because when the corpulent government unions take a seat on their end of the teeter totter the spindly taxpayers at the other end are catapulted into the air. A soft landing does not appear likely.

Let’s take a closer look at the current imbalance between the interests of government employee unions and those of the taxpaying public.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau California public employees are the highest paid in all 50 states. The non-partisan Legislative Analyst has rated California the most generous in pension benefits for its employees. These guaranteed pensions are costing taxpayers more each year. The current bill is approaching $5 billion.

In the private sector to retire on an income comparable to that received by many former government workers it would be necessary to have over $2 million dollars in the bank. And many of these former state employees are able to retire with full benefits while still young enough to pursue a second career. Nearly 5000 former public employees are enjoying pensions in excess of $100000 yearly. Those still on the job have wonderful security — state employment actually grew in 2008 over the previous year.

While government employees prosper with secure jobs high pay and lavish benefits average taxpayers are struggling to hold onto jobs and homes and to look after their families. The unemployment rate is at 11.5 percent and home foreclosures are at record highs.

It is no overstatement to say that government unions own the majority party in the Legislature. Jerry Brown who himself enabled a significant expansion of public employee collective bargaining power while governor recently acknowledged that no Democrat can get elected without union help.

Despite the economy and California’s crushing tax burden government employee unions push for even more taxes — one union is advocating more than $40 billion in new levies. Their agents in the Legislature who depend so heavily on union campaign contributions slavishly pursue the union agenda of higher taxes to guarantee job security and escalating compensation for their benefactors.

Taxpayers want to see public employees many of whom do outstanding jobs fairly compensated and they recognize that many former state employees who have been long retired do not enjoy the same rich benefits as recent retirees. The problem is that most current government employees do so much better than taxpayers are doing and government as an agent of the unions is demanding ever higher taxes to maintain this disparity.

If there is any silver lining to the current budget crisis it is that union dominance over California politics is garnering a lot more public scrutiny. More and more is being written about the undue influence of government unions and the unrealistic compensation packages they are able to extract from state and local governments. This scrutiny is long overdue.

Jon Coupal is President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization — which is dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and promoting taxpayers’ rights.