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K. Lloyd Billingsley - Contributor
[Courtesty of Pacific Research Institute]

K. Lloyd Billingsley is Editorial Director for the Pacific Research Institute and has been widely published on topics including on popular culture, defense policy, education reform, and many other current policy issues. [go to Billingsley index]

Capitol Countdown
Buying politicians... the union way…

[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 6/30/04

A former actor may be governor but the most entertaining spectacle here in recent weeks has been the countdown to tomorrow’s July 1 deadline on an issue that could save California more than $200 million over 20 years.

The California Union of Safety Employees (CAUSE) represents 3,200 workers including milk testers, billboard inspectors, and the DMV employees who test new drivers. In 2002, the union gave $500,000 to legislators and $500,000 to former governor Gray Davis. Sam McCall, the union's lawyer, showed unusual candor in his description of the process.

“All this was the result of buying Gray Davis,” McCall told the Sacramento Bee. “We would not have got this done if we had not shoved a lot of money his way.”

What they “got done” was a pension increase, negotiated directly with Davis, in line with those of police and firefighters and 25 percent richer than the already generous pensions of other state workers. But then voters booted Davis in a recall election and replaced him with Arnold Schwarzenegger, who faced a budget mess.

Senator Tom McClintock, a Republican, authored SB 9, a bill that rescinds the pension increases. The Bee backed it to the hilt.

“SB 9 by Sen. Tom McClintock, R-Thousand Oaks, would block the pension increases and save the state $11 million next year and an estimated $216 million over the next 20 years,” the paper said on June 20.

“Milk testers are not cops. Billboard inspectors don’t fight fires. California cannot afford to give them richer retirement. Tainted legislation should not be pared back a little. It should be repealed. Send SB 9, the pension repeal bill, to the governor.”

In daily “pension countdown” editorials, the paper has been blasting Assembly Democrats, especially Speaker Fabian Nunez, who had been the subject of glowing profiles.

“So, it’s time to stand up, Speaker Nunez,” the editorial said. “Either defend the pension boost that will give state milk testers, billboard inspectors, forensic pathologists and deputy directors at the Department of Real Estate (among others) pension benefits that are 25 percent richer than other state workers get or vote to rescind them.”

On his union website, CAUSE president Alan Wayne Barcelona argued that his members deserved the hike and that DMV examiners are “assisting with the national security of this nation.” Just how, exactly, would not be apparent to anyone who has ever set foot in a DMV office.

Legislators rejected the crusade against the “pension heist” and killed SB 9 in committee. Unless another bill rescinds or delays the increase, or the governor does something, tomorrow the boosted pensions will take effect and California will lose out on a $200 million savings. Corruption has consequences.

Politicians should not be for sale but it is so common in California that public employee unions openly brag about it to the press. Buying politicians may be good for the purchasers, but it’s bad for taxpayers and the public. Legislators know this but remain afraid to do anything about it. That’s where we are on June 30, 2004. CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute




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