3/29/08

Unions blamed for Golden State budget woes

The state has an $8 billion hole in next year’s $141 billion budget, which does not include the $2 billion we overspent this past year. The state needs to find an additional $10 billion just to balance the budget. Fixing budgets is very easy. All you have to do is increase your revenue or lower your expenses. The Democratic legislators think the problem is a lack of taxes Californians pay.

The Republicans think it is overspending. Most of the problems occur when certain programs have an automatic 7.5% increase, yet the tax revenue only increases by 3%.

Another part of the overspending is self inflicted by the voters of California who pass any bond measure that has a good 30-second commercial.

While digging into the state debt load recently, I was surprised to see that we are still paying back 1970 bonds that were authorized when I was in the sixth grade.

California has a total of more than $42 billion in general obligation bonds outstanding and another $61 billion that were already approved by the voters, but not yet issued, for a total of $103 billion in bond debt.

The payments on the issued debt are more than $6 billion a year and growing at 12.2% per year. That means before we pay $1 for anything we must first pay $6 billion for bond debt.

The largest part of the state budget is personnel. In that category the Sacramento Bee did a great service this month for the taxpayers and compiled a database of salaries by name and job title of all 367,680 full- or part-time employees who cash a state paycheck. www.sacbee.com/statepay.

This database includes every UC Irvine professor, state trooper, highway worker and clerk.

Needless to say, many state employees have blown a gasket that these public records, which were always available upon request, are now on a searchable database accessible to all Californians.

Did you know the 186 staff psychiatrists we have in the prison system make a base salary of $258,708 per year and that the 22 chief psychiatrists we have make $282,792?

We have 257 employees of the state Senate and Assembly who make more than $100,000 with the top earners breaking $200,000. That’s more than the legislators they work for get paid.

Our own UCI had 157 employees who made more than $150,000 base pay, with 28 making $200,000. You will note that I am talking only about base pay.

When you add in overtime, bonuses and grants; five UC employees made more than $1 million. In fact, 91 UC employees took home more than $500,000 gross pay. These numbers do not include healthcare benefits and lifetime pensions.

A really disturbing part of searching the database is to see how many state workers make more than $200,000 per year. Just four years ago there were 36, today there are almost 1,000. One in 14 state employees make more than $100,000 per year.

According to the Bee, the highest paid 10% of state workers had their pay jump almost 25% in the 38 months from November of 2003 to January of 2007. It is impossible to balance a state budget with those types of increases.

Now, clearly all state workers are not overpaid, and some actually earn every dime they make. But when you figure in the overly generous pension plans and lifetime heath benefits, plus the fact that it is almost impossible to be fired; it is not a bad gig.

The state budget has been growing out of control for years. Besides the lack of adult supervision in Sacramento we have also made a mess with so-called campaign finance reforms.

All that these laws have done is restrict the speech of Californians by limiting what a person can give to a candidate for state office and at the same time allow public employee unions to use mandatory union dues for political campaigns with no limits on what they can spend.

Organizations like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayer Assn., who fight to keep taxes down, have a hard time competing with unions that electronically take union dues out of each state worker’s paycheck, under the guise of union dues, and spend most of it on political campaigns without the worker’s permission.

In 1998, I and two other Orange County residents, Mark Bucher and current Mission Viejo City Councilman Frank Ury, put an initiative on the ballot to stop the practice (Proposition 226).

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger put a similar one on the ballot in 2005 (Proposition 75). Both times it was defeated by state labor unions using those same workers’ dues to fight it.

California will never get its financial house in order as long as the state employee labor unions decide who is going to be in office.

There is an old saying, “You dance with the one that brought you.” In California, the state labor unions brought most of our legislators to the dance, and we have a $10 billion budget deficit to prove it.

(dailypilot.com)

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