Tim Leslie - Contributor
Tim Leslie represents California’s 4th Assembly
Will California every save money?...
[Tim Leslie] 6/28/04
Laboring under a crushing $14 billion deficit, California has
a chance to save $11 million this year and $216 million over
next 20 years. Yet because of inaction by legislative Democrats,
who have only days left to decide their course, we may fritter
away this opportunity to save money.
At issue is a sweetheart deal given by then Governor Gray Davis
and Democrats to such state employees as milk testers and tax
auditors. Under this agreement, these workers would receive the
same pension benefits as those who deal directly with public
safety and who spent every day of their careers putting their
lives on the line. To be sure, tax auditors and billboard inspectors
perform valuable work for this state's citizens, but they are
not public safety employees.
The union that negotiated this devil's bargain
in 2002 is the California Union of Safety Employees (CAUSE),
which donated $500,000
to Gov. Gray Davis and $500,000 to other top Democrats that year. "All
of this was the result of buying Gray Davis," said former
union lawyer Sam McCall, who helped write SB 183 (Burton, D-San
Francisco), the measure that effected the deal. "We would
not have got this done if we had not shoved a lot of money his
Unfortunately, SB 183 bypassed rules requiring each department
to determine which employees meet the conditions for the generous
benefits. These criteria clearly say they only go to those who
directly protect the public safety or work with inmates and state
mental patients. SB 183 gave workers the better pensions, irrespective
of what they did for a living.
As respected non-partisan columnist Dan Walters
recently wrote, these were "benefits that were obviously
bought, not earned."
The good news is that there is a measure, SB 9, which would
repeal this horrible mistake. The bad news is that legislative
Democrats have stalled it, and we only have until June 30 to
pass the law and forward it to the governor for his signature.
The next day, the bogus pension deal goes into effect.
Thus, Democrats are caught between overwhelming
public opinion and conniving labor unions that can write them
at the drop of a hat. As Keanu Reeves famously asked Dennis Hopper
in the movie Speed, "What do you do?"
Well, the obvious answer is to do the right thing. But there
is a larger question in play here: What message does this send
if the Legislature balks on this relatively simple, cut-and-dry
issue? For instance, there is a proposal to return to the pension
agreement that existed for other state employees before 2003.
This would, however, require them to contribute an extra 1% from
And what about that behemoth of all state employee unions, that
of the prison guards, the CCPOA? Governor Schwarzenegger wants
to renegotiate the multi-billion dollar agreement his predecessor
worked out with them in return for $12.6 million in campaign
contributions. If the Legislature blinks on SB 9, the CCPOA and
other unions can rest assured that their cushy benefits are secure.
Taxpayers, however, should lose sleep over the implications.
Let's not get the wrong impression: all of us should value the
service state employees give us, and these hard working men and
women should be compensated with a package that allows them to
care for their families and provide for their future. By and
large, they have this.
However, compensation packages should be based on fairness and
common sense, not sweetheart deals in smoke-filled rooms. Governor
Schwarzenegger is right to demand renegotiations.
At a time when the state can ill afford deals that were obtained
through highly questionable means, we need to revisit SB 183.
The Democrat-controlled Assembly Labor Committee recently defeated
SB 9. Only days are left for the Legislature to take some extraordinary
action to make sure this opportunity does not pass us by.
I encourage my Democrat colleagues to understand the crucial
nature of this issue and to do the right thing for taxpayers.
Otherwise, more stringent cuts will be made to vital public services.
Failing to do so, however, will prove yet again that California
cannot live within its means. And that is something we really
can't afford. CRO