Is CA Brewing Another Taxpayer Revolt?

The state that introduced the country to the idea of capping property taxes,appears ready to take on public sector unions. Here’s hoping that what’s happening in CA does as much for income and sales taxes as Prop 13 did for homeowners. Some backround.

First we have the city of Bell, CA. From the Sacramento Bee:

The Times reported that Bell’s city manager, Robert Rizzo, was earning nearly $800,000 in annual pay, making him the highest-paid government manager in the nation. Police Chief Randy Adams was paid $457,000 a year, and Assistant City Manager Angela Spaccia made $376,288.

Under pressure from residents, all three have resigned. At a City Council meeting Monday night, Bell residents are expected to push for the resignations of four of the five council members; each of the four makes $100,000 a year for a part-time job.

Next up on the hit parade is San Jose. From the Mercury News:

Amid nationwide outrage about public employee salaries, a divided San Jose City Council on Tuesday took aim at the city’s soaring compensation costs. As a result, voters this fall will decide whether to rework the city’s pension system and clamp down on costs for police and firefighters.

The council voted 7-4 to put a measure on the ballot that would change a three-decade-old policy giving outside arbitrators the final say in contract disputes with public safety workers. Mayor Chuck Reed says the policy has helped hike police and firefighter costs 99 percent since 2000, contributing to 10 consecutive years of deficits. Just last week, the city laid off 50 firefighters to help plug a $118.5 million shortfall.

How did the unions take the news?

Union members were stunned by the upset. For hours, they had pleaded with the council to delay putting the arbitration and pension measures on the ballot until the council, unions and community could study the issues further.

“This was an object lesson in how to make bad law,” said Jody Meacham, spokesman for the South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council. The measures, he said following the meeting, “have been cooked up in a hurry and will be presented to voters as some sort of solution to the city’s budget problems. Nobody knows if they are solutions or if they create more problems.”

Meaning if the unions lose the vote, they’ll sue. The mindset of public employees in this country seems to be “I don’t care if city, town or state X goes broke, I better get mine”.

Finally from the City of Angels. From the LA Times:

The cost of retirement benefits for Los Angeles city employees will grow by $800 million over the next five years, dramatically eroding the amount of money available for public services to taxpayers, according to a report issued Tuesday.
By 2015, nearly 20% of the city’s general fund budget is expected to go toward the retirement costs of police officers and firefighters, who now have an average retirement age of 51. The figure was 8% last year.

Once civilian employees are factored in, nearly a third of the city’s general fund could be consumed by retirement costs by 2015, Santana said.

“For every dollar you’re paying into your pension systems, you’re not paying into libraries, parks and various other city services,” Santana told the council.

Shortly after Santana’s presentation, the council voted to study the possibility of using employee-managed 401(k) investment plans — long favored by private industry — to provide a portion of the city’s retirement benefits.

Representatives of the city’s public safety unions warned officials not to rush to judgment on fixes to the pension problem.

“I highly recommend that we go very slow on this issue,” said Peter Repovich, director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League, which represents rank-and-file officers. “It seems there’s a lot of group-think going on across the state and the nation” on the issue.

The taxpayers across this nation simply can’t afford the outsized paychecks and pensions that public unions have negotiated with elected officials that they largely helped put in office in the first place. For good and for ill, California sets trends for the rest of our nation. Here’s hoping that the days of public union employees being untouchable end and that the latest $26 billion bailout for states to ensure full employment for public sector unions is the last.

The days of politicians and unions playing “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” at the expense of the taxpayer are going to come to an end; it’s just a question of how and when because the current path is “unsustainable”.