Jon Coupal- Columnist
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]
Public service unions…
[Jon Coupal] 1/21/05
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
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
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 www.alec.org 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
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
is an attorney and President of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers
2005 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers association