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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]

Pension Sellout is New California Gold Rush
Paying for everything…

[K. Lloyd Billingsley] 7/13/04

Californians can sleep well tonight knowing that milk testers, billboard inspectors, and deputy directors at the department of real estate are watching out for their safety, fortified with pensions 25-percent richer than those of other state employees.

The big bucks kicked in Thursday, July 1, when the legislature missed the deadline for rescinding a pension increase that was the result of, as a union lawyer put it, "buying Gray Davis." But it didn't have to stand.

Sen. Tom McClintock authored SB 9, which would have rescinded the increases, normally reserved for police and firefighters. The Sacramento Bee backed the bill to the hilt, charging that the raised pensions were the result of "tainted legislation" that should be repealed. The paper also blasted Assembly Democrats for taking evasive action rather than a principled stand.

Legislators responded by killing the bill in committee, preventing it not only from reaching the governor but from the full debate it deserved.

Cash strapped California has missed this opportunity to save more than $200 million over 20 years. Those who will foot the bill, taxpayers, should understand that this was not a stand-alone issue but part of a trend. Public employee pensions are the new California gold rush.

In 1932 the legislature established a retirement system and in 1935 added a separate category for the Highway Patrol, with enhanced benefits. In 1947 firefighters and game wardens also gained the bigger benefits. By the 1960s about one in 20 state workers received the fatter retirements.

The 1970s saw the addition of prison guards, teachers, custodians, machinists and plumbers, and laborers and other workers in the prisons, even the bedding factory supervisor. During the 1980s the CHP got a new "super-safety" category and the legislature added workers in mental hospitals, including nurses. During the 1990s the floodgates opened further.

The safety retirement category gained 21 new classifications in 1991, including business managers, industrial superintendents, and plant managers. In 1993 prison dentists, doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and speech pathologists got on board. So did many workers at mental hospitals declared "forensic."

In 2002 came the measure that gave the 25-percent fatter pensions to livestock inspectors, milk testers, funeral home inspectors, fingerprint analysts, and the DMV workers who give driving tests. Now nearly one in three state workers gets the enhanced "safety" retirement, a group that has more than tripled over the past 20 years. It excludes highway maintenance workers, a truly dangerous job.

Those who want this group to continue expanding, public employee unions, were able to sell the idea that the high-tech boom would pay for it all. It won't. California taxpayers will, in an already high-tax state still saddled with a budget mess and still hostile to business.

What we have here is a textbook case of bad government. The American founders, as some may have recalled on July 4, wanted government to promote the general welfare, rather than benefit the few at the expense of the many. In the current California class system, the role of the many is simply to pay for everything.

What the late Frank Zappa astutely noted about Washington also applies to Sacramento. The people there are looking out for number one. And number one ain't you. You ain't even number two. CRO

copyright 2004 Pacific Research Institute




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