Want Leisure Time? Work for California

OK now that Governor Brown’s effort to gouge even more from struggling taxpayers has been derailed — at least for now — let’s return to the real world where those who are still working are struggling to hold on to their jobs and homes.

If you are a working Californian you look forward to a little time off each year. Typically this will be two weeks of vacation and if you are lucky a handful of paid holidays. With an official unemployment rate of over 12 percent — and an actual rate closer to 23 percent when those who have given up looking and those who have accepted part time jobs are counted — you are probably not inclined to push the issue of an extended vacation with pay with your current or future employer. After all he or she is struggling to survive in a state with the most hostile tax and regulatory climate in America

Back in the fantasy realm that is our state capitol things are very different.

Here those living off taxpayers’ dollars enjoy much more leisure time.

For example a tentative agreement reached by the Brown administration with the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association gives new employees so many days off they may have trouble using them all. The contract provides nearly two months off. Vacation holidays a personal holiday personal development days and the personal leave program amount to 7.7 weeks off according to the Legislative Analyst’s Office. All but the personal leave program — 12 furlough days — are with full pay.

The 2011-12 budget as approved by the Conference Committee assumes that the state will save 10 percent in employee compensation costs for the six bargaining units with expired contracts but this contract at 2.8 percent does not even come close. One cringes at the thought of how Brown has dealt with the unions representing engineers scientists stationary engineers and correctional officers whose contracts the LAO is about to review.

Few are surprised at Brown’s willingness to negotiate sweetheart deals with the government employee unions. He helped empower their collective bargaining rights when he was governor in the 1970s and they showed their gratitude with an all-out effort to elect him to that office again last year.

The unions representing the best compensated government workers in all 50 states are so comfortable in their relationship with the governor and the majority in the Legislature most of whom they also helped elect that they were unwilling to take even one step back in recent budget negotiations to help close the deficit. And here is where Brown missed his “Nixon to China” moment. Just as Nixon because of his sterling record of anti-communism could go against his conservative base of support and reach out to the Chinese Brown was well positioned to look the union bosses in the eye and say “no mas!” But he proved himself incapable of seizing the moment and the gravy train for government employees will for the moment continue uninterrupted.

But Brown and his allies should be wary. As taxpayers continue to struggle through tough times working more and getting less they are fed up with a system that allows government employees to work less and get more.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.