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On June 5, some 8,000 government employee union members rallied at the California capitol. “We’re letting them know this is our house!” said union boss Yvonne Walker of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), California’s largest government employee union. As it happens, Walker is right. Government employee unions do own the place, and members helpfully explained how it works.
“We’ve done our part,” a state lottery employee told reporters. That part would be helping elect big-government, tax-hiking politicians such as Governor Jerry Brown. As a news report noted, “Brown leaned heavily on labor’s backing to win the 2010 gubernatorial race. Ditto for Democrats seizing supermajorities in both state legislative chambers last fall.” Now the government employees want more money and nobody should be surprised that the governor will pay up.
Brown wants to give the SEIU a pay increase of 4.5 percent, along with a guarantee of no furlough days and protection of health care and retirement benefits. The proposed three-year also speeds up the process for the state to pay health costs for the dependents of new employees. This pay increase is not in return for additional duties or higher productivity. It’s for helping politicians get elected, which as one legislator noted is not a reason for a raise. Dan Pellissier of California Pension Reform notes that “most state employees, if you include their retirement packages, would continue to be overcompensated based upon their private sector counterparts.” The state, he said, should pay down billions in health care and pension liabilities before handing out raises. Politicians claim that they can do that because the budget is “balanced.” But as Dan Walters notes, such claims ignore “some very real obligations that, if recognized, would put the state many billions of dollars in the red.”
A recent report from the Bureau of State Audits pegs California’s net worth at negative $127.2 billion. As a news story on the report notes, the state has a negative net worth “largely because it spent more than it received in revenue.” But none of that debt can prevent raises for state employees, in return for helping elected politicians such as Jerry Brown. Taxpayers should recall that Brown, in his first stint as governor, authorized collective bargaining for state employees and has no regrets about it. That’s why Yvonne Walker is right that the capitol is “our house.”