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Jon Coupal- Columnist

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association -- California's largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento. [go to website] [go to Coupal index]

California's Protected Class
Public service unions…

[Jon Coupal] 1/21/05

The Governor's state-of-the-state address caused quite a stir. Most Republicans were happy, most Democrats were angry, and the media -- whose impossible job for four years was to make Gray Davis look interesting -- loved it. From their perspective, Arnold has issued a declaration of war and, if nothing else, war is interesting.

For California taxpayers, the substance of Schwarzenegger's speech was "A-plus" material. Sure, the reiteration of his "no tax" pledge was the centerpiece, but this time we saw something new. The entire theme of his address was that now is the time to stop ignoring the structural problems of California finances. He openly admitted that he dislikes the budget he introduced this week because the restrictions imposed by a series of special interest amendments to the California Constitution have left him in a straight jacket unable to pursue needed reforms.

Ordinary California voters do not know the complexities of California budget problems. But at this point, they feel they don't need to know them. The spirit of the recall lives on, citizens like Schwarzenegger, and will vote -- more or less -- the way he asks them to.

Which is why -- war or not -- California finally finds itself in a unique position to do something about the extraordinary power currently wielded by public employee unions. Conventional political wisdom in this state for the last 20 years is that you can't take on the unions because of their large war chests and the fact that they will always craft their political message as "looking out for the kids" or "protecting the public from fires or bad guys." No more.

The public employee unions are now victims of their own excesses. A day hardly passes in California when some newspaper hasn't exposed some scandal about excessive pay, out of control pensions, disability fraud, bad behavior (e.g., firefighters using a fire engine to visit a "pornography ball") and the list goes on and on.

When it comes to pay, we've seen this storm brewing for a long time. Indeed, back in 1992, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a Washington, D.C. based think tank, issued the first of a series of studies: America's Protected Class: Why Excess Public Employee Compensation is Bankrupting the States. That study concluded that the tax increases at the state level were driven in large part by huge increases in public employee compensation. That study was followed in 1993 by America's Protected Class II, the second in the series but one which focused on the ever-widening gap between private and public pay. ALEC has produced two more studies, including one from just last year showing that the gap between public and private sector employees has widened substantially in the last ten years. (Visit for more information).

Our own research confirms that California's situation is the worst among the bad. A study prepared for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Foundation by the California based Center for Governmental Analysis revealed some stunning findings, including:

-- Total payroll expenditures for county governments in California increased from approximately $12.1 billion in 1997 to over $17.9 billion in 2002, an increase of almost 48%.

-- Statewide, payroll expenditures for welfare system employees increased over 72%.

-- In Los Angeles County, between 1997 and 2002 the number of CalWorks welfare recipients declined 40% while the payroll expenditures for welfare system employees increased 66%.

The backlash against this insanity, by citizens who are not on public payrolls, started in earnest just a few years ago. But with Arnold at the helm, it may very well reach a crescendo in 2005.

Taxpayers do not object to public employees being fairly compensated. All we are asking is that public servants remember that they are supposed to be just that -- servants of the public. Not masters lording over taxpayers. CRO

Jon Coupal is an attorney and President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.

copyright 2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association




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