Do We Need More Unionized State Workers?

Government employee union leaders are grinning from ear to ear. Governor Brown wants to hire an additional 1,600 employees and jettison some state contracts with private sector workers.

It’s been said that all government work should be subjected to the “Yellow Pages test.” If a service provider can be found in the phone book — or online — the work should be outsourced. If not, the work should be performed by government employees.

An oversimplification? Perhaps. But it should be noted that more than two decades ago, then New York Governor Mario Cuomo — a Democrat and father of the current New York Governor — stated, “It is not a government’s obligation to provide services, but to see that they are provided.”

Even if our state government were more aggressive about allowing the private sector to preform services, we would still retain most government employees. Few citizens would endorse having law enforcement, the courts or tax agencies and other critical public business being handled by anyone other than those directly accountable as public employees. Those who perform important functions, including department managers, inspectors, and those who oversee and organize work, whether done by government or private sector workers, would continue on the public payroll.

However, there remains the opportunity to achieve considerable public savings by turning to the private sector. Here is an example. Several years ago, the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Foundation sponsored a study of the privatizing of some prison related services that revealed $1.2 billion in potential annual savings. Every other function of state government should be reviewed in an aggressive manner for similar economies. Suppose we start by looking at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Unfortunately, Sacramento is moving in the opposite direction. Not only does Governor Brown want to swell the ranks of state workers, a new law is taking effect that empowers government employee unions to review pending state contracts with private entities, and possibly overturn those where the union leadership believes the work would be best performed by state employees.

In defense of the law, its author, Assemblyman Richard Pan, said when it was approved last year, “We have a responsibility to taxpayers to not waste money on outsourcing jobs when California already has the most efficient civil service employees in the country,” Pan is a Sacramento area Democrat, who apparently needs to spend more time traveling around the state and looking at state projects like the widening of the 405 freeway in Los Angeles that is nearly a year over schedule and has been making traffic a nightmare for millions of Southern Californians. He should also take the time to review the just released Senate report that reveals allegations that when quality control managers found significant construction defects in the Oakland-San Francisco Bay Bridge, rather than ordering needed fixes, top Caltrans managers replaced those who reported the problems. Or maybe all Assemblyman Pan needs need to do, for an enlightening experience, is to visit his local DMV.

However, don’t expect the assemblyman, his colleagues in the Legislature or the governor to experience an epiphany that causes them to recognize that there is a potential for taxpayer savings and public service upgrades by remaining open to having the private sector perform some clearly specified government work. Most elected officials owe their success to the support of those very government employee unions who now object to any competition from workers from the private sector. These politicians are unwilling to jeopardize their careers by crossing their primary benefactors.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

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