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Every two years, around this time, political mailers inundate the mailboxes of California’s registered voters. This week, many Sacramento residents received “Vote No on Prop 6″ mailer. Prop 6 is that pesky, subversive citizens ballot initiative that, if approved by voters, will roll back the gas tax.
But Prop. 6 isn’t the topic here. Rather, the topic is all taxes in California. Why is there relentless pressure to increase them? And what special interests are paying for these campaigns to increase (or preserve) taxes across California?
In that context, this No on Prop. 6 mailer is instructive. Because blazoned across the cover of this four page, 8.5″ x 11” glossy full color flyer, is Darrell Roberts, representing the California Professional Firefighters. Roberts is the president of IAFF Local 2180, the Chula Vista Firefighters Union. In addition to his duties as president of Local IAFF Local 2180, Roberts is a Fire Battalion Chief for the Chula Vista Fire Department. In that capacity, he earned $327,491 in 2017, including $99,887 of overtime.
Now let’s back up for just a moment and make something perfectly clear. This isn’t about disrespecting firefighters in general, or Mr. Roberts in particular. Quite the contrary. Firefighters perform dangerous, challenging jobs that require years of intense training. Every year in California, a few of them die in the line of duty. In some years, more than a few. Furthermore, firefighters constantly witness trauma, often horrific, every time they respond not only to fires, but medical emergencies and automobile accidents. Their jobs are tough.
For these reasons, critics of public sector compensation trends should always temper their observations with respect. It is far too easy to observe, accurately, that many other jobs carry higher risk of injury or death, while forgetting that first responders stand between citizens and mayhem not just in normal times, but also in extraordinary times. In a truly cataclysmic event, and 911 is a perfect example, firefighters are obligated to occupy the front lines. They are the ones who must stop whatever destructive storms afflict our society. They are the ones who must go in before safety is restored, and rescue the stranded victims.
With that necessary preamble, and without diminishing it in any way, a difficult conversation remains necessary regarding public sector compensation, and the political power of the public sector unions who push for continuous increases in compensation.
A California Policy Center analysis published nearly two years ago, using 2015 data, calculated the average pay and benefits for a California firefighter at $196,370 for those employed by cites, $198,959 for those working for counties, and $145,938 for those working for the state. Those averages have not fallen in the past three years, and they do not include the additional cost per firefighter, if and when their retirement pensions are adequately funded.
Mr. Robert’s own City of Chula Vista provides an example of these rising pension costs. In 2017 the average pay for a Chula Vista firefighter was $189,715. That included, on average, $41,112 for overtime and $31,381 for employer contributions to their defined benefit pensions. But as they say, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
Using CalPERS own projections for the City of Chula Vista, the average normal contribution by the city to fund police and firefighter pensions is expected to grow from 20 percent of payroll in FYE 6/30/2017 to 22 percent of payroll by FYE 6/30/2025. Nothing terribly dramatic there. But, get this, the so-called unfunded contribution – that additional amount necessary to pay down the city’s unfunded liability for police and firefighter pensions – is expected to grow from 13 percent of payroll in FYE 6/30/2017 to 32 percent of payroll in 6/30/2025.
Put another way, the City of Chula Vista’s employer payments for public safety pensions are going to go from 33 percent of payroll to 53 percent of payroll by 2025. And if the stock market decides to end its already record breaking bull run, harming the CalPERS investment portfolio, these payments will go much higher.
It’s also important to recognize the relationship between excess overtime expenses and the cost of pension and health benefits (including retirement health benefits). When public employers pay more than 50 percent above regular salary to fund pensions and benefits, and in the case of public safety, they do, then it makes financial sense to pay time-and-a-half to existing staff, since that will cost less. Lost in that equation is the stress this excessive overtime inflicts on overworked personnel, as well as the lost opportunity to bring benefit overhead back below fifty percent.
Collectively California’s state and local employers, based on projections already released from CalPERS, are going to have to increase their total contributions to public employee pension funds from approximately $31 billion in 2017 to an estimated $59 billion by 2025.
Maybe veteran firefighters truly believe they are entitled to annual pay and benefits packages in excess of $200,000 per year, or in Mr. Roberts case, in excess of $300,000 per year. But with all the political power these unions wield, they ought to be thinking of ways to help lower the cost-of-living in California. That would help everyone.
And perhaps it may disturb even the most respectful and appreciative among us, when a public servant who made $327,491 last year, asks us to support higher taxes.
* * *
2017 Salaries for Chula Vista – Transparent California
California’s Public Sector Compensation Trends – California Policy Center, January 2017
Comprehensive Annual Financial Report, FYE 6/30/2017 – City of Chula Vista
Safety Plan of the City of Chula Vista, Annual Valuation Report as of 6/30/2017 – CalPERS
Miscellaneous Plan of the City of Chula Vista, Annual Valuation Report as of 6/30/2017 – CalPERS
2017 City Data, Government Compensation in California – California State Controller
California Government Pension Contributions Required to Double by 2024 – California Policy Center, January 2018
When considering the influence of unions on American society, there are vast differences depending on what type of union one considers.
Private sector unions, for all the criticisms they may deserve, have nonetheless played a vital role in securing rights for the American worker. Subject to appropriate regulations, private sector unions have the opportunity to continue to play a vital role in American society. If they would bother to embrace the aspirations of their members, instead of the multinational corporations their leaders now apparently collude with, they might even support immigration reform. That would elevate the wages and benefits of all American workers, especially those doing low paying jobs.
Public sector unions, on the other hand, should be illegal. They negotiate with elected officials who they help elect. They negotiate for a share of coerced tax revenue, rather than for a share of profits, meaning there are no competitive checks on how much they can demand. The agenda of public sector unions is inherently in conflict with the public interest. But given the reality of public sector unions, it is important to recognize that some public sector unions are worse than others.
Public safety unions, for example, have successfully lobbied for pension benefits that are not sustainable. This calls for a difficult but necessary economic discussion that can only end two ways – either these pension benefits are going to be reduced, or cities and counties across California and elsewhere will go bankrupt in the next major recession. But public safety unions have not undermined their profession the way the teachers unions have.
The teachers unions are guilty of all the problems common to all public sector unions. They, too, have negotiated unsustainable rates of pay and benefits. They, too, elect their own bosses, negotiate inefficient work rules, have an insatiable need for more public funds, and protect incompetent members. But the teachers union is worse than all other public sector unions for one reason that eclipses all others: Their agenda is negatively affecting how we socialize and educate our children, the next generation of Americans.
Work Rules Harm Public Schools
One of the most compelling examples of just how much harm the teachers union has done to California’s schools was the 2014 case Vergara vs. the State of California. In this case, attorneys representing public school students argued that union negotiated work rules harmed their ability to receive a quality education. In particular, they questioned rules governing tenure (too soon), dismissals (too hard), and layoffs (based on seniority instead of merit). In the closing arguments, the plaintiff’s lead attorney referenced testimony from the defendant’s expert witnesses to show that these and other rules had a negative disproportionate impact on students in disadvantaged communities.
Despite winning in the lower courts, the Vergara case was eventually dismissed by the California Supreme Court. Teachers still get tenure after less than two years of classroom observation. Incompetent teachers are still nearly impossible to fire. And whenever it is necessary to reduce teacher headcount in a district, the senior teachers stay and the new teachers go, regardless of how well or poorly these teachers were doing their jobs. The consequences of these self-serving work rules are more than academic.
The evidence that California’s public schools are failing is everywhere. Los Angeles, a city whose residents are – perhaps more than anywhere else – representative of America’s future, is home to the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), with 640,000 K-12 students. And as reported earlier this year in the LA School Report, according to the new “California School Dashboard,” a ratings system that replaced the Academic Performance Index, LAUSD is failing to educate hundreds of thousands of students. In the most recent year of results, 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts, and 50 percent earned a D or F in math. Fifty percent of LAUSD’s schools are failing or nearly failing to teach their students English or math.
Attack Innovative Charter Schools
In the face of failure, you would think LAUSD and other failing school districts would embrace bipartisan, obvious reforms such as those highlighted in the Vergara case. But instead, these unions are relentlessly trying to unionize charter schools, which would force those schools to adhere to the same union work rules. In Los Angeles, the Alliance Network of charter schools has delivered demonstrably better educational outcomes for less money, while serving nearly identical student populations.
How does it help to impose union work rules on charter schools that are succeeding academically? How does that help the children who are America’s future?
A Left-Wing Political Agenda
The other way the teachers union is unique among public sector unions is their hyper-partisanship. Despite and often in defiance of their memberships, nearly all unions are left-wing partisan organizations. Nearly all of them support left-wing causes and Democratic political candidates. But the teachers unions do so with a zeal that dwarfs their counterparts. Larry Sand, a former LAUSD teacher and prolific observer of teachers union antics, has spent years documenting their left wing agenda.
For example, reporting on the annual conventions of the two largest national teachers unions, Sand writes: “The National Education Association convention at the beginning of the month gave us a clue which theory would become reality when the union passed quite a few über liberal New Business Items, maintained its lopsided leftward political spending, and gave rogue quarterback Colin Kaepernick a human rights award. And here in the Golden State, the California Teachers Association continues its one-way spending on progressive initiatives and endorsed 35 state legislators in the June primary – all Democrats.
A week after the NEA convention, the other national teachers union, the American Federation of Teachers held its yearly wingding and left absolutely no doubt as to its future political direction. The resolutions passed by the union at the convention would make any socialist proud. Universal health care – whether single-payer or MediCare for All, full public funding for, and free tuition at all public colleges and universities, and universal, full-day, and cost-free child care are what AFT wants for the country. Additionally, the union resolved to double per-pupil expenditures for low-income K-12 districts and to ‘tax the rich’ to fully fund ‘IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), Title I and state allocations to public colleges and universities.'”
Left-Wing Student Indoctrination
This left-wing political agenda finds its way into the classroom, of course. At the same time as California’s K-12 public school students are not being effectively taught English or math skills, they are being exposed to agenda-driven political and cultural indoctrination.
Again, as documented by Larry Sand: “Nor are textbooks safe. Communist and notorious America-hater Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” is assigned in many high school history classes. Zinn felt that the teaching of history “should serve society in some way” and that “objectivity is impossible and it is also undesirable.” As a Marxist, he’d prefer a society that resembles Stalin’s Russia. Additionally, Pacific Research Institute’s Lance Izumi notes that pages and pages of the latest California History, Social Science Framework ‘are devoted to identity politics, and the environmentalist, sexual, and anti-Vietnam War movements, with detailed and extensive bibliographical references. In contrast, the contemporaneous conservative movement, which succeeded in electing Californian Ronald Reagan as president, with its complex mixture of social, economic and national security sub-movements, is given cursory and passing mention, with no references provided.'”
Public sector unions are going to be with us for a long time. But in the wake of the Janus ruling, members who don’t agree with the political agenda of these unions can quit, depriving them of the dues that – to the tune of nearly a billion per year just in California – make them so powerful.
Teachers, in particular, should carefully consider this option. America’s future depends on it.
LAUSD schools open in two weeks after having had the July from Hell.
The Los Angeles Unified School District is heading into the new school year after something less than a whiz-bang summer. The follies began with a report revealing that the predicted 2017 graduation rate of 80 percent didn’t quite hit the mark. In reality, it was 76.1 percent because the state’s Department of Education changed its definition of “graduate” after a federal audit questioned the accuracy of California’s method of figuring out who really completed high school. Using the old formula, students were counted as graduates if they transferred to adult education programs to earn their diploma or passed a high school proficiency exam. But now they are more honestly considered dropouts. The value of a diploma had previously gone south after the district decided in 2015 to pad its numbers with “credit recovery classes” – allowing students to take frequently useless crash courses on weekends, holidays, etc. Additionally, the demise of the California High School Exit Examination in 2016 gave the false impression that grad rates were improving.
Of course, none of this should be at all shocking, as earlier this year California’s school rating system showed that 52 percent of LAUSD’s schools earned a D or F in English language arts, 50 percent earned a D or F in math, and just 40 percent of all students graduate college or are career ready.
At the same time, the education advocacy organization Parent Revolution released a report which showed that in LA’s 44 lowest-performing schools, 46 percent of their teachers were not evaluated at all from 2014 to 2017. (In the 2016-17 school year alone, 70 percent of teachers working at those 44 schools were not evaluated, “even though only 27 percent of students at those schools were proficient in English language arts and only 20 percent were proficient in math.”)
The LA school board also took a hit. Ref Rodriguez, one of the four reform-minded board members, was forced to resign after pleading guilty to a felony count of conspiracy and four misdemeanor counts for making contributions in another person’s name during his 2014 campaign board run. Although Rodriguez escaped prison time, he did have to vacate his board seat. Given his strong pro-charter school stance, that’s good for the education establishment, but bad for kids. While the board could pick a temporary successor, considering the new 3-3 split, getting a majority to agree on anyone will be difficult. The board will probably call for an election to fill the vacant seat, but it’s doubtful that will happen before next spring.
There was, however, some good news…for some students. At the same time the district has been scandalously neglecting its least capable students, the school board decided that principals at bottom performing schools would not have to hire “must place” teachers who have either been deemed ineffective or were bumped due to the state’s archaic quality-blind seniority system. While that sounds like a much needed improvement, it really is a zero-sum game since the unwanted teachers will now be foisted on all the other schools. LAUSD school board vice-president and rare right-thinker Nick Melvoin saw through this sham and said that the same logic should apply to all students. But Melvoin knows well that districtwide hiring practices must be negotiated with the teachers union. Speaking of which….
The United Teachers of Los Angeles is talking strike. Starting two years ago, UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl threatened not only to call for a teacher walkout, but ominously to unleash a “state crisis” on California. Well, looks like crisis time is on the horizon. In a July 24th press release, UTLA submitted its “Last, Best and Final Offer” to LAUSD and demanded a “48-hour response from the district.” The union said that the 2 percent ongoing salary increase, an additional one-time 2 percent bonus and a $500 stipend for materials and supplies offered by the district was “insulting.” The union then trotted out all the usual bogeymen, blaming unaccountable charter schools, pro-privatization ideologues and new school superintendent Austin Beutner for the district’s woes.
But union kvetching aside, Beutner just may be the right man for the job. While UTLA whines that he is a “billionaire investment banker, not a teacher,” his status as a businessman is a good thing. He is dealing with a school district whose unfunded liability for retiree health benefits has risen to $15.2 billion, up from $13.5 billion in 2016. As CALmatters Jessica Calefati reports, LAUSD could be “just two years from financial ruin.” Nick Melvoin added, “We’re in a death spiral.”
Speaking recently to LA business leaders about the deficit, Beutner posited, “By 2021, if we haven’t changed things appreciably, we will be no more, and that reckoning will not be pretty.” While Beutner didn’t say what would follow the apocalypse, Dan Walters writes that there will be political pressure, particularly from the teachers unions, for a taxpayer-funded state bailout.
The summer has turned out to be long, hot and horrible for the country’s second largest school district, and the fall and winter aren’t looking any brighter. Students and taxpayers will remain collateral damage for a system where unaccountable bureaucrats and the teachers unions run the show.
Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.
With light rail, high speed rail, and possibly passenger drones and hyperloop pods just around the corner, it’s easy to forget that the most versatile mode of transportation remains the common road. Able to accommodate anything with wheels, from bicycles and wheelchairs to articulated buses and 80 ton trucks, and ranging from dirt tracks to super highways, roads still deliver the vast majority of passenger miles.
As vehicles continue to evolve, roads will need to evolve apace. Roads of the future will need to be able to accommodate high speed autonomous vehicles. They will also need to be smart, interacting with individual vehicles to safely enable higher traffic densities at higher speeds. But can California build roads competitively? How expensive are road construction and maintenance costs in California compared with other states in the U.S.? How can California make the most efficient use of its public transportation funds?
PHYSICAL VARIABLES AFFECTING CONSTRUCTION COSTS
The Federal Highway Administration maintains a cost/benefit model called “HERS” (Highway Economic Requirements System) which they use to evaluate highway construction and highway improvement projects. One of the products of HERS is the FHWA’s most recent summary of road construction costs, updated in 2015. Its findings reveal both the complexity facing any cost analysis as well as the wide range of results for similar projects.
For example, on the FHWA website’s HERS summary page, Exhibit A-1 “Typical Costs per Lane Mile Assumed in HERS by Type of Improvement” data is presented in nine columns, each representing a typical project category for which the FHWA analyzes costs. They are: “Reconstruct and Widen Lane,” “Reconstruct Existing Lane,” “Resurface and Widen Lane,” “Resurface Existing Lane,” “Improve Shoulder,” “Add Lane, Normal Cost,” “Add Lane, Equivalent High Cost,” New Alignment, Normal,” “New Alignment, High.”
The FHWA then break their results in each of the nine project categories into two broad groups; rural and urban. Within each of those two groups, they offer the subgroups; “Interstate,” “Other Principal Arterial” (these two are combined in the “Rural” group), “Minor Arterial,” and “Major Collector.” This creates seven cost groups, each of which are then further split. For “Rural” categories, they split into “Flat,” “Rolling,” and “Mountainous.” For “Urban” categories, they split into “Small Urban,” “Small Urbanized,” “Large Urbanized,” and “Major Urbanized.”
To make a long story short, and to state the obvious, “cost per lane mile” is never one number. The FHWA’s HERS table, which itself is a reductive, arguably arbitrary summary, there are 252 distinct cost per lane mile estimates, 24 per project category. And within these nine categories, the range of costs is dramatic.
According to the HERS analysis, adding a new lane to an interstate on flat terrain in a rural area costs $2.7 million per lane mile. To do the same thing in a major urbanized area costs $62.4 million per lane mile, more than twenty times as much. Even minor projects display wide ranges in cost. Resurfacing an existing lane of a principal arterial in a flat, rural area costs $279,000 per lane mile. To do the same in a major urbanized area costs $825,000 per lane mile, three times as much.
The fact that topography, existing usage and population density affect road construction costs isn’t news. But the wide variation in costs that result from these physical variables compounds the other major factor affecting road construction costs, which is the political and economic environment of the states where projects occur. As will be seen, the FHWA compiles state by state data on road construction. This data, however, is apparently not sufficient to allow the FHWA to produce a HERS summary showing costs per lane mile by state.
EXAMINING FEDERAL DATA ON ROAD EXPENDITURES BY STATE
The FHWA Office of Highway Policy Administration does issue a highway statistics report, updated annually, that provides valuable per state data on highway mileage and transportation budgets. Their 2016 report is available but incomplete (still missing key tables such as “Disbursements by States for Highways”) so the 2015 report is still the most current. These tables are uniformly formatted and downloadable.
California’s Spending per Mile vs. Condition of Roads
An excellent analysis of FHWA data is produced every year by the Reason Foundation. Earlier this year they released “23rd Annual Highway Report,”ranking each state’s highway system in 11 categories, including highway spending, pavement and bridge conditions, traffic congestion, and fatality rates.” Highlights from this study can offer insights into how efficiently California is spending its highway dollars compared to other states through using the following logic: How does California rank in terms of how much it spends per mile, compared to how California ranks in terms of the condition of its roads.
Overall California is ranked 43 among the 50 states “Total Disbursements per mile.” California is ranked 41 in “Capital & Bridge Disbursements per mile,” 47 in “Maintenance Disbursements per mile, and 46 in “Administrative Disbursements per mile.” In terms of road condition, California is ranked 33 in “Rural Interstate Pavement Condition,” 45 in “Urban Interstate Pavement Condition,” and 46 in “Rural Arterial Pavement Condition.”
There’s not too much you can conclude from that in terms of efficient use of funds. Among the 50 states, California appears to be at or near the bottom 10% in spending per mile of road, and also in pavement condition.
In terms of cost-efficiency, among all states, this data suggests California is in the middle of the pack.
How Centralized Are California’s Road and Highway Agencies?
Within the FHWA data an interesting finding is the great variation between states in road mileage under state administration vs. road mileage under other administration – mostly cities and counties, but also federal. Only a few states, mostly the larger western states, have any significant mileage administered directly by the federal government – Alaska 14%, Arizona 22%, Idaho 16%, Montana 16%, New Mexico 16%, Oregon 28% and Washington 11%, and Wyoming 13%. Most all other states have low single digit percentages of roads administered by the federal government. The national average is 3%. California, only 6%.
State administration of road construction is higher, but still relatively low. The national average is 19% of road mileage administered by state agencies. California’s is significantly lower than average, at only 8%. Altogether, nationally, 78% of road mileage is administered by local agencies, mostly cities and counties. In California, 87% of road mileage is administered locally.
Before inferring too much from this fact, that road construction and administration is overwhelmingly ran by local agencies, FHWA funding data is useful. The data shows that total funding for roads in California in 2015 was $19.0 billion. Of that, 44% ($8.3 billion) was for “Capital Outlay,” which refers to new roads, new lanes on existing roads, new bridges, and bridge upgrades. The national average is 47% of all road spending on capital.
More to the point, the CalTrans budget in 2015 was $10.5 billion. According to the California Office of Legislative Analyst, that “includes $3.9 billion for capital outlay, $2 billion for local assistance, 1.8 billion for highway maintenance and operations, and $1.7 billion to provide the support necessary to deliver capital highway projects. How much of that was reported to the FHWA as part of the total $8.3 billion spent on capital? Certainly the $3.9 billion “for capital outlay.” Probably the “$1.7 billion to provide the support necessary to deliver capital highway projects”? What about the $2.0 billion of local assistance? For capital projects, it appears that between $5.6 billion and $7.6 billion of the total spending of $8.3 billion came from CalTrans.
The State of California’s role in total spending on road transportation is also reflected in the budget allocations in that year for the California Highway Patrol, $2.4 billion, which is included in the FHWA’s total for California, under “Law Enforcement” ($3.4 billion). It is possible, if not likely, that the state’s $1.1 billion for the Dept. of Motor Vehicles is included either in the Law Enforcement or Administration categories in the FHWA data, or allocated between them. Finally, the finance charges – interest payments and debt retirement totaling $1.5 billion – are not coming out of the budgets for the state’s transportation agencies, but some percentage of that total is paid by the state. Altogether it is likely that the State of California directly funded about $12 billion, roughly 63% of the $19 billion spent on road construction and administration in 2015.
Based on funding data, state agencies clearly play a central role in constructing and maintaining California’s roads.
California’s Spending per Lane Mile vs. Percentage of Lane Miles in Urban Areas
An interesting alternative way to get at how efficiently California uses its public transportation funds is to evaluate based on the expanded variables of total lane-miles instead of state administered road mileage, and total spending on roads by all public transportation agencies instead of just Caltrans. The rationale for using lane-miles relies on the assumption that it is more costly to build a mile of six lane highway (three lanes in each direction) than a mile of two lane road, meaning that lane miles provides a more meaningful denominator, if the numerator is total public spending on roads. The rationale for examining spending by all public transportation agencies relies on the assumption that many, if not most of the political and economic factors that govern road construction costs in California are common throughout the state, having the same effect on construction costs regardless of the funding source.
Using FHWA data on lane miles and total spending by state to calculate spending per lane-mile, California was found to average $43,999 in total spending per lane-mile. This ranks California 42 among all states. The national average is $25,474 in transportation spending per lane-mile. Put another way, for every dollar that, on average, is spent to build and maintain a lane-mile in the nation as a whole, California spends $1.73. This suggests that California is not spending its transportation funds nearly as efficiently as the most other states, but without considering other variables this is a misleading statistic.
One of the largest factors determining cost per lane-mile is urbanization. This is clearly evident in the previously mentioned FHWA website’s HERS summary page, Exhibit A-1 “Typical Costs per Lane Mile Assumed in HERS by Type of Improvement,” where costs per lane-mile are uniformly higher in urban areas, and in some cases far higher. As noted earlier, “According to the HERS analysis, adding a new lane to an interstate on flat terrain in a rural area costs $2.7 million per lane mile. To do the same thing in a major urbanized area costs $62.4 million per lane mile, more than twenty times as much.”
The idea that road construction costs more in urban areas can be attributed to several interrelated factors: Land values are typically greater in densely populated areas. Construction challenges are greater in urban areas where it is more likely that existing structures may have to be acquired and demolished to permit road construction or widening. Labor costs are typically higher in urban areas. Urbanized regions also are likely to have more local restrictions on development, leading to more costly permitting processes and higher fees. There are other key factors influencing road construction costs – for example, climate and topography – but urbanization is easily quantifiable and likely the most significant of them.
For this reason, the following chart includes not only spending per lane-mile by state, but also includes the percentage of lane-miles, by state, that are in urban areas. Here, California distinguishes itself as one of the most urbanized states, having 59% of its lane-miles within urban areas. The national average, by contrast, is almost half that; only 31% of the nation’s lane miles are located in urban areas. Tracking these two rankings, spending per lane-mile and percentage of urban lane miles, permits an illuminating comparison. If one assumes there is a correlation between cost per lane mile and percentage of lane miles in urban areas, then how a state ranks in one should be similar to the how it ranks in the other.
Six states conform exactly to this assumption. Utah, for example, is the 24th most expensive state to construct roads per lane-mile, and it has the 24th most rural percentage of roads. Similarly, Illinois has a $/mile rank of 34, and it has a rural road % rank of 34. Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the District of Colombia all have $/mile rankings exactly equal to their rural road % ranking. Five more states have a deviation between their $/mile rank and their rural road % rank of only one. California’s is only two – it is ranked 42 in its cost per lane mile, making it quite expensive relative to most states, but it is ranked 44th in its percentage of lane-miles in rural areas, meaning it is one of the most urbanized states.
The final set of columns on the chart, on the right, show a score for each state based on the rural road percent ranking less the $/mile ranking. If the score is negative, that means the state spending on lane miles ranks better (less per mile) than its rank based on its percentage of rural lane-miles. In other words if the score is negative, that means the state is spending less per lane mile than one might expect based on their level of urbanization, and if the score is positive, the state is spending more per lane mile than one might expect based on their level of urbanization.
Once again, California is in the middle of the pack.
Spending per Lane-Mile by State; Percentage of Urban Lane-Miles by State
(Source: Federal Highway Administration, 2015)
If one assigns any credence to these rankings, it presents interesting questions. Why is it that states like Georgia and Tennessee, which are relatively urbanized, are among the top performers in terms of being able to cost-effectively construct and maintain their roads? In the case of Tennessee, it isn’t as if they’ve neglected their roads, they are in the top ten in all three FHWA measurements of pavement condition. Georgia’s scores on pavement condition put them in the middle among states.
In some of the poorly ranked states, topography and climate may be factors. Alaska, the one of the least urbanized states nonetheless is one of the most expensive states to build and maintain roads, which should come as no surprise. Most of the states with low scores have harsh climates.
A final note regarding California – while it shows a high correlation between its cost per lane-mile and its level of urbanization, it does not score well in the three pavement condition indexes; 33 out of 50 for rural interstates, 45 out of 50 for urban interstates, and 46 out of 50 for rural arterial roads.
California can do better.
OBSERVATIONS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Federal data indicates that while California scores poorly compared to other states in terms of road conditions, California also spends less than other states in terms of expenditures per lane mile. Considered in isolation, those two facts only suggest that California is using its transportation funds no more and no less efficiently than the average state. While federal data also indicates that California, overall, spends nearly twice as much per lane-mile as the national average, California is also more heavily urbanized, and normalizing for that reveals again that California is being roughly as cost effective in its use of transportation dollars as the average state.
When factoring in the condition of California’s roads, however, which are near the bottom in pavement condition indexes, California is not using its transportation dollars as well as it could.
Anecdotally, literally everyone surveyed – and we talked with representatives from dozens of agencies, research firms, and transportation agencies – agreed that per mile road construction costs are higher in California than most other states. But the federal data we had access to does not offer documentary proof of that, and Caltrans, despite numerous attempts, could not produce data on per mile construction costs that could be compared to national averages.
The lack of transparency, the complexity, and the subjective nature of any resulting analysis makes it difficult to assert with any certainty where California falls relative to other states – it is either somewhat below average, or far below average, but making that call requires a level of evidence and clarity that is simply not available. Ultimately it does not matter where California falls in that continuum, because regardless of how efficiently California spends their public transportation funds per lane mile of new or upgraded roads, there are ways to improve. The following recommendations were heard repeatedly, from contractors, trade associations, and researchers familiar with the topic. The first two in particular:
(1) Reform CEQA
CEQA, or the California Environmental Quality Act, is a “statute that requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and to avoid or mitigate those impacts, if feasible.” While the intent behind CEQA is entirely justifiable, in practice it has added time and expense to infrastructure projects in California, often with little if any actual environmental benefit. An excellent summary of how to reform CEQA appeared in the Los Angeles Times in Sept. 2017, written by Byron De Arakal, vice chairman of the Costa Mesa Planning Commission. It mirrors other summaries offered by other informed advocates for reform and can be summarized as follows:
- End duplicative lawsuits: Put an end to the interminable, costly legal process by disallowing serial, duplicative lawsuits challenging projects that have completed the CEQA process, have been previously litigated and have fulfilled any mitigation orders.
- Full disclosure of identity of litigants: Require all entities that file CEQA lawsuits to fully disclose their identities and their environmental or, increasingly, non-environmental interest.
- Outlaw legal delaying tactics: California law already sets goals of wrapping up CEQA lawsuits — including appeals — in nine months, but other court rules still leave room for procedural gamesmanship that push CEQA proceedings past a year and beyond. Without harming the ability of all sides to prepare their cases, those delaying tactics could be outlawed.
- Prohibit rulings that stop entire project on single issue: Judges can currently toss out an entire project based on a few deficiencies in environmental impact report. Restraints can be added to the law to make “fix-it ticket” remedies the norm, not the exception.
- Loser pays legal fees: Currently, the losing party in most California civil actions pays the tab for court costs and attorney’s fees, but that’s not always the case with CEQA lawsuits. Those who bring CEQA actions shouldn’t be allowed to skip out of court if they lose without having to pick up the tab of the prevailing party.
(2) Restructure Caltrans
Caltrans currently outsources only about 10% of its work. Despite repeated attempts to legislate changes that would require Caltrans to use contractors to lower costs, no action has been taken. In a report prepared in 2015 by state senator Moorlach, the failure of California’s legislature to implement reforms is described: “In previous administrations, Governor Schwarzenegger pushed for an 89/11 ratio and could not achieve it. Even Governor Brown proposed a reduced ratio that was rejected by the Legislature.”
By maintaining permanent engineering staff instead of contracting, whenever projects are concluded these engineers are often idle until another project comes along. The Legislative Analyst’s Office in 2015 reported that there were 3,500 of these positions created for programs that have expired, requiring an extra $500 million each year.
The advantage of contracting out engineering work isn’t merely based on more efficiently allocating personnel to projects to avoid down time. When Caltrans does the designing, then puts the project out for bids, the contracting companies have to conduct redundant design analysis in order to prepare their bids. This also contributes to increased costs which are passed on to the taxpayer as well as extra time. In moving to a system where Caltrans just specifies the project goals and lets the contractors prepare competitive bids based on in-house designs, the taxpayer saves time and money. Ways to restructure Caltrans might include:
- Immediately increase the ratio of contracted work from 10% to 20%.
- Permit the headcount of in-house engineers at Caltrans to reduce through retirements and voluntary departures, systematically increasing the ratio of contracted work as the number of Caltrans in-house engineers decreases. Set a goal of at least 50% contracted work within five years.
- Abolish the current requirement that the state legislature has to approve any projects that are contracted by Caltrans instead of designed in-house.
(3) Decentralize and Innovate
On the FAQ page for Elon Musk’s Boring Company, the following innovations are proposed to lower the cost of tunneling by a factor of between 4 and 10: (1) Triple the power output of the tunnel boring machine’s cutting unit, (2) Continuously tunnel instead of alternating between boring and installing supporting walls, (3) Automate the tunnel boring machine, eliminating most human operators, (4) Go electric, and (5) Engage in tunneling R&D. More generally, on that FAQ page the following provocative assertion is made: “the construction industry is one of the only sectors in our economy that has not improved its productivity in the last 50 years.”
How can California use public transportation dollars to nurture innovation that will deliver more people to more places, faster, safely, for less money? One way would be to nurture competition by nearly eliminating Caltrans. Why should one state agency control nearly two-thirds of the funds for road construction and maintenance in California? Why not reduce Caltrans to a couple dozen administrators to handle federal regulations and direct federal funds and move all road work, expansion and maintenance to the counties? The counties can conform to a general state plan, but there’s no reason to have a state bureaucracy any more when the counties can be challenged to be more efficient, effective and non-duplicative in their work.
Imagine the innovation that might come out of Santa Clara County, where stretches of roadway could be immediately prioritized to add smart lanes where autonomous cars – including mini-buses and share cars – can operate safely at much higher densities and speeds. Imagine the innovation that might come out of Los Angeles County, where entire transit corridors could have congestion greatly relieved because thousands of cars are being swiftly and safely transported from point to point in underground tunnels. Imagine the innovation that might come out of San Francisco, where congestion pricing completely eliminates their chronic gridlock, or out of Orange County, where private investors team up with public agencies to use roboticized equipment to perform heavy road construction at a fraction of the cost for conventional processes?
Why not decentralize transportation management in California and turn the counties into laboratories of innovation?
(4) Expand Into the Vastness of California
It is an accident of history that California is so densely urbanized. Most metropolitan regions on the east coast, developed gradually over three centuries or more, have thousands of square miles of spacious suburbs, and tens of thousands of even more spacious expanses of moderately settled lands on the edges of remaining wilderness areas. California, in stark contrast, has nearly 18 million people residing in greater Los Angeles and over 7 million people residing in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. If you add residents of the San Diego region and Sacramento regions, you account for 32 million out of a population of 39 million. And yet all of California’s urban areas, the most densely urbanized in the nation, only constitute five percent of its 163,696 square miles! The math is compelling – you could settle ten million people in four person households on half-acre lots and it would only consume 1,953 miles. Double that for roads, parks, commercial and industrial space, and you are still only talking about urbanizing another 2.4% of California’s land. The idea that we cannot do this is preposterous.
The cost of infrastructure, roads in particular, is much higher in urban areas. So why not expand along the nearly empty Interstate 5 corridor, creating new towns and cities that are spacious and zoned to never become congested? Why not upgrade I-5 to accommodate high speed smart vehicles that provide nearly the speed of high-speed rail, while preserving the point-to-point convenience that only a car can offer? Why not expand along the entire fringe of California’s great Central Valley, where currently thousands of square miles of cattle rangeland are being taken out of production anyway? Why not build more roads on this raw land, bringing down the cost both for roads and the homes that will be built around them?
(5) Change the Conventional Wisdom
California’s policymakers have adhered increasingly to a philosophy of limits. Urban containment. Densification. Less energy use. Less water consumption. Fewer cars and more mass transit. But it isn’t working. It isn’t working because California has the highest cost of living in the nation. Using less energy and water never rewards consumers, because the water and energy never were the primary cost within their utility bills – the cost of the infrastructure and overhead was the primary cost, and those costs only go up with renewables. Cramming home construction into limited areas not only destroys the ambiance of existing neighborhoods, but simply cannot increase the supply of homes enough to lower the cost.
There is a completely different approach that would cost less and improve the quality of life for all Californians. Without abandoning but merely scaling back the ambition of new conservation and efficiency mandates, free up funds to build safe, generation III+ advanced nuclear reactors. At the same time, construct desalination plants on the Southern California coast, enough of them to supply the entire Los Angeles basin with fresh water. Instead of mandating water rationing for households, put the money that would have been necessary to retrofit all those homes into new ways to reuse water and capture storm runoff.
Paying for all of this wouldn’t have to rely exclusively on public funds. Private sector investment could fund most of the energy and water infrastructure. Water supplies could be even more easily balanced by permitting water markets where farmers could sell their water allotments without losing their grandfathered water rights. If the permit process and mandated design requirements were reduced, builders could carpet former cattle ranches with new homes, sold for a profit at affordable prices.
This is the final segment of a four part excursion into California’s transportation future. In each section the same themes emerged: It isn’t just what gets built to serve future Californians, it’s how cost effectively the money is spent. Innovation and regulatory reform – CEQA in particular, but also repealing SB 375, AB 32, and related anti-growth legislation – together have the potential to lower the cost of infrastructure, transportation in particular, by at least 50%.
California’s current policies have stifled innovation and created artificial scarcity of literally every primary necessity – housing, energy, water and transportation. Each year, to comply with legislative mandates, California’s taxpayers are turning over billions of dollars to attorneys, consultants and bureaucrats, instead of paying engineers and heavy equipment operators to actually build things.
The innovation that persists despite California’s unwelcoming policy environment is inspiring. Right here are the pioneering companies that will deliver flying cars, commercial access to outer space, breakthrough modes of transportation such as hyperloop and urban tunnels. Right here are the companies that will deliver self-driving cars, cars on demand, high-speed smart cars. These things will happen within a time frame that is, by the standards of human history, breathtakingly short. And with the right assortment of pro-growth policies in place, more of them will happen right here.
California’s transportation future cannot be predicted with any certainty. If the past few decades have taught us anything, it is that innovation routinely delivers products and solutions that nobody could have possibly imagined. But it is a reasonably safe bet that the common road is the most useful mode of transportation infrastructure for which public policy can risk public funds. A flat surface where wheeled conveyances of every conceivable design can all travel from point to point, clean, smart, versatile, sustainable, and fast.
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Edward Ring co-founded the California Policy Center in 2010 and served as its first president.
 Federal Highway Administration – Highway Economic Requirements System
 Office of Highway Policy Information – Highway Statistics 2015
The FHWA’s annual highway statistics report is actually a series of tables, uniformly formatted and downloadable as Excel files. For this report, the following tables were downloaded and consolidated:
[2-C] Length by ownership
[2-D] Estimated lane-miles
 Reason Foundation – 23rd Annual Highway Report
 California Office of Legislative Analyst – The 2015-16 Budget: Transportation Proposals
 California Office of Legislative Analyst – The 2014-15 Budget: Capital Outlay Support Program Review
Anyone who thinks it’s easy to calculate the total annual revenue of California’s government unions hasn’t tried to do it. And this statistic is vital to understanding one of the most powerful forces – if not the most powerful force – in California’s state and local politics.
The problem with getting accurate ground-up revenue numbers is that California is home to many hundreds, if not thousands, of local public-sector union affiliates all filing separate 990 forms. Those forms often include financial transfers between entities that have to be offset in any thorough analysis. The organization of the information on these 990 forms is missing useful variables, and the data-entry varies from filer to filer. Complicating matters, the 990 data is on PDF files that cannot be parsed, and even if you were to transcribe hundreds of them onto a spreadsheet, there would be no way to know if you’d found them all.
For these reasons, a top-down estimate relying on informed assumptions is the only practical way to proceed with limited time and resources.
Back in 2010, after finding nothing online, the California Policy Center published “Public Sector Unions & Political Spending.” In that study, we based our estimate of total political spending on three variables: (1) the number of public sector workers are members of unions, (2) the average annual union dues payment per worker, and (3) the percentage of union dues used by the unions for political activity. A subsequent analysis, “California’s Government Unions Collect $1.0 Billion Per Year,” published in 2015, arrived at that estimate by multiplying updated estimates of the first two variables – the number of unionized workers times the average dues per unionized worker. More on this later. First, here is information on some of the key variables necessary to perform a top-down analysis.
WHAT PERCENT OF CALIFORNIA’S STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES ARE UNIONIZED?
Getting this data depends on limited sources that provide only estimates. For example, the 2003 UC Berkeley study “California Union Membership: A Turn-of-the-Century Portrait,” which estimated total government union membership at 53.8 percent of all public employees, even today remains the only in-depth analysis we can find of California’s union membership.
That study relied on two datasets. One came from the annual U.S. Census; an excellent and ongoing distillation of that data is provided by UnionStats.com. The other dataset was the California Union Census, conducted in 2002 by UC Berkeley’s Institute for Research on Labor and Employment. That report has not been updated.
In any case, the updated U.S. Census survey for 2017, as compiled on the website UnionStats.com, estimates that 55 percent of California’s public employee unions are members of unions, up slightly from 2003.
HOW MANY STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENT EMPLOYEES ARE THERE?
Acquiring this data reveals another pitfall in attempting to perform a top-down estimate of government union revenue, because there are full-time and part-time employees, with reported totals varying. For example, the UnionStats.com reports 2,489,477 state and local government employees in California in 2017. Transparent California reports 2,529,468 state and local government employees in California in 2016. And the U.S. Census reports 1,523,255 full-time, 686,750 part-time, and 1,814,756 “full-time equivalent” state and local government employees in 2016.
Turning to the state controller’s “Government Compensation in California” website to resolve these differing totals yields a reported 326,413 city employees in 2017, 354,968 county employees, 162,764 special district employees, 247,177 state employees, 19,125 superior court employees, 291,141 University of California employees, 119,475 California State University employees, 161,863 Community College District employees, and 658,135 K-12 education employees. That totals to 2,341,061 employees in 4,376 agencies, and does not include 1,456 agencies that did not respond to the State Controller’s request for this information.
WAYS TO ESTIMATE TOTAL DUES COLLECTIONS
The top-down method to do this requires estimating the total number of unionized employees in the state and local workforce, and multiplying that number by the average annual union dues. Getting a good value for both of these variables is problematic. Even assuming the 55 percent unionization percentage is accurate, despite having this number only via sampling surveys, there is still the need to estimate the total number of state/local employees. Four sources offer a total: 2.49 million from UnionStats.com, 2.52 from Transparent California, 2.21 from the U.S. Census, and 2.34 from the State Controller. Because Transparent California’s data comes directly from payroll departments of local agencies, that number is likely accurate despite being higher than the others. Applying 55 percent to 2.5 million workers yields a union membership estimate of 1,375,000.
Average union dues are very hard to pin down – and not only because many of their members are part-time workers who will not pay the full dues. Union dues vary because they’re based on the various rates of union dues and on the pay scale of each individual employee. Before discussing how much these amounts vary, here are the average dues per member based on various assumed total statewide union revenue:
Average Annual Union Dues Based on Various Total Union Dues Revenue
(assume total California state/local agencies have 1.375 million union members)
This chart (above) is only a first step, but it provides a good way to get an idea of what estimate may be reasonable. But how many of these union members are full-time? And how much do members of various unions pay? In a previous analysis, published last week and edited later that week after receiving feedback from some of the unions being analyzed, we made assumptions based on available information about the major government unions active in California. We learned, for example, that the dues for California School Employees Association (CSEA) members are capped at $472.50 per year, and that the total dues for their 240,000 members are roughly $70 million per year including dues retained by their local affiliates. We also assumed that on average California’s full-time teachers and public safety employees pay around $1,000 per year in dues, possibly more. Overall, the analysis came up with a total dues estimate for all of California’s government unions of around $800 million per year.
California’s Public Sector Unions (including local affiliates)
Estimated Total Membership and Revenues
A WAY TO IMPROVE UNION TRANSPARENCY
When considering the tremendous influence government unions have in California – the public safety unions, for example, exercise immense power in California’s cities, and the teachers union wields equal power in Sacramento – it would be proper to have more complete information on their operations. To this end, it would be helpful and in the public interest if every government employee union that files a 990 form with the IRS each year would also be required to file with the State of California – and post online – the following completed form:
Having these documents would still not be enough, however. The forms could not be accepted in PDF format, but instead provided in a standardized, downloadable and parsable format, so consolidations could be easily performed by online viewers. Moreover, it would be necessary to require a Federal Identification Number (FIN), in a separate field, for each filer, as well as the FIN of any affiliate to which they either send or receive funds. This will make it possible for an analyst to easily develop consolidated total revenue figures for each of the major unions and their affiliates.
If and when this happens, we will finally know how much money California’s public sector unions are collecting and spending each year. But don’t count on the state legislature to do this. Perhaps it can be accomplished with Freedom of Information Act Requests, or California Public Record Act Requests, but these unions – despite the fact they organize public workers – may successfully argue they are not public entities and are therefore exempt from such requests. That leaves reform to either court challenges or a citizens initiative.
Not knowing how much public sector unions are spending each year, or what they’re spending it on, is unhealthy for our democracy.
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RELATED POSTS AND REFERENCE LINKS
California’s Government Unions Collect An Estimated $800 Million Per Year, CPC Analysis, July 2018
California’s Government Unions Collect $1.0 Billion Per Year, CPC Analysis, May 2015
Understanding the Financial Disclosure Requirements of Public Sector Unions, CPC Study, June 2012
Public Sector Unions & Political Spending, CPC Analysis, Sept. 2010
Government Compensation in California, State Controllers Office
2016 Government Employment and Payroll Tables, U.S. Census Bureau
California Union Membership: A Turn-of-the-Century Portrait, Milkman & Rooks, 2003, UC Berkeley
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Editor’s note: This post was updated on 7/13/2018 to include the following RETRACTION: The CSEA (California Schools Employees Association) has provided clarification of actual member dues revenue. The author’s previous assumptions, now known to be erroneous, were that (1) CSEA is a decentralized union meaning that significant dues revenue is retained by local affiliates, and (2) that annual dues revenue was based on 2% of pay instead of the lower 1.5%, and (3) that the maximum allowable dues per year was higher than what is actually the case.
To rectify this, this article now states that total government union revenue in California is at least $800 million per year. That is based on the inaccurate estimate originally made for CSEA’s annual revenue, $159 million, now being reduced to the revenue disclosed by the CSEA on their 990, $67M. This lower annual figure for CSEA, $67M, has been incorporated accordingly into the revised analysis to follow. While the CSEA does have independent affiliates, their revenue is far less than what we assumed, for the reasons stated, and for this overall estimate of all union revenue we are simply leaving that amount out of our calculations.
As explained in the article, it is difficult to accurately compile estimates of total government union dues and memberships, and to do so with the information and resources available requires making reasonable assumptions. If we learn of further erroneous assumptions used to compile any of these estimates, they will be diligently corrected. We regret the error.
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In the wake of the Janus ruling, it is useful to estimate just how much money California’s government unions collect and spend each year. Because government unions publicly disclose less than what the law requires of public corporations or private sector unions, only estimates are possible.
The primary source of information comes from Form 990s that government unions must provide to the IRS each year. Copies of these 990s can usually be found on Guidestar.org; sometimes they are also available on the union websites. While these 990s are useful, to put together reasonably accurate estimates of total government union revenue they require careful analysis and supplemental information from elsewhere. With these limitations noted, here are summary estimates of how much money California’s taxpayers are providing to government unions, who withhold their dues directly from the payroll departments of public agencies.
PUBLIC EDUCATION UNIONS
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016 there were 422,248 “full time equivalent” teachers employed in California’s K-12 system of public education. In California’s UC and CSU systems of higher education, there were 30,005 faculty instructors. Support staff in the K-12 system numbered 239,726 employees, and in higher education they numbered 40,770 employees.
The largest union focused on K-12 teachers is the California Teachers Association (CTA), easily the largest and most powerful union in California. Their most recent financials, for the year 2015, show declared revenue of $190 million, with $178 million of that declared as dues from members. This, however, greatly understates the power of the CTA.
Not only is the CTA a branch of the nationally focused National Education Association, but the CTA in turn is comprised of local chapters. These local chapters retain a significant share of dues revenue, which they report on their own 990 forms. The CTA chapter United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), for example, declared membership dues of $38.9 million in 2015.
Collecting exact financial data including dues revenue for all CTA chapters would be possible, but not easy. Including the behemoth UTLA, the CTA has 1,100 chapters, plus the California Faculty Association and 42 chapters in the Community College Association. But making a reasonable estimate is possible based on the CTA “Fact Sheet” where they declare a membership of 325,000, combined with the UTLA’s disclosure of their “new dues structure,” wherein full time members pay $1,014 per year.
Based on this information, one may estimate the total annual dues revenue of the CTA and its affiliates at around $330 million per year. While some members may not pay the full dues, which might lower this estimate, the CTA and affiliates have other sources of income including investment income. For example, at the end of 2015 the CTA declared net assets of over $190 million, and the UTLA declared net assets of $28.6 million.
While the CTA is huge, it is not the only union player in California’s system of public education. A much smaller but still very large and powerful teachers union active in California is the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), a branch of the American Federation of Teachers. On their “Who We Are” page, the CFT claims a membership of 120,000, spread over 145 local chapters.
Just as with the CTA, precisely calculating the total dues revenue of the CFT is nearly impossible. Moreover, some of the AFT’s claimed chapters, the UTLA in particular, are actually quasi-independent unions that are affiliated with the CTA and the CFT. But based on their membership claims, and taking into account these complicating factors, a reasonable estimate of the total dues revenue for the CFT and their direct local affiliates is probably around $100 million.
The power of the unions in California’s system of public education doesn’t stop with the CTA and CFT, however. There is also the California School Employees Association (CSEA), claiming membership of 240,000 mostly “classified” (non-instructional) support staff. The CSEA is divided into “Areas” and “Regions” which is their equivalent of local chapters. Their 990 reports a 2015 revenue of $67.2 million.
In summary, subject to the limitations in the available data and what appear to be reasonable assumptions, California’s public education employee unions, the CTA, the CFT, and the CSEA, altogether are probably collecting around $497 million per year.
PUBLIC SAFETY UNIONS
The difficulties inherent in estimating revenue for public education unions are equally present when trying to estimate revenue for public safety unions. The firefighter unions and police unions are for the most part decentralized. The Los Angeles Police Protective League illustrates this point. With revenue in 2016 of $11.6 million. When their membership dues, $10.4 million, is divided by their 9,900 membership, their average dues can be estimated to be $1,152 per year.
Extrapolating this estimate of average dues to the total number of full-time police officers in California, 63,230, as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau as “Police Protection – Persons with Power of Arrest,” it is reasonable to estimate the California’s total police union dues revenue is around $72.8 million per year. This number could be larger, based on the Public Policy Institute’s recent analysis which states “In 2015 there were more than 118,000 full-time law enforcement employees in California; roughly 77,000 were sworn law enforcement officers (with full arrest powers) and 41,000 were civilian staff.”
Firefighter unions, also decentralized into locals, defy easy compilations of total revenue. A conservative estimate of their average dues would be to assume they are comparable to police union dues, $1,100 per year. According to the CPF website they “claim over 175 IAFF locals as CPF affiliates, serving more than 30,000 paid professional firefighters. ” This is consistent with the U.S. Census data, which estimates “Fire Protection – Firefighters” at 28,907 employees” and “Fire Protection – Other” at 4,182 employees.
Based on these variables, total annual revenue for all affiliates of the California Professional Firefighters union is estimated to be around $33 million per year.
The other public safety union, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, appears to be a centralized organization, claiming 39,750 members. Their 990 for 2016 declares total revenue of $29.3 million, This implies an annual dues of $1,088 per year, which is consistent with other unions.
In summary, California’s public safety unions, the CPOA, the CPF, and the CCPOA, along with their local affiliates, altogether are probably collecting around $135 million per year.
OTHER PUBLIC SECTOR UNIONS
No survey of California’s government unions is complete without taking a look at three very large and influential unions – the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the California State Employee Association (CSEA, not to be confused with the California School Employees Association), and the California Nurses Association.
With these unions as well it is difficult to gather accurate compiled data, because in each case dozens if not hundreds of local affiliates are filing separate 990 forms. AFSCME California, for example, includes the following:
Council 36 – extending across Los Angeles to Orange County to San Diego representing more than 55 autonomous Local Unions whose members work in local government agencies and nonprofit organizations.
Council 57 – representing workers in schools and community colleges, transit agencies, public works and services, clinics and hospitals, and water and wastewater facilities throughout Northern California and the Central Valley, as well as the health and social service professionals in corrections facilities across California.
Employees Association of the Metropolitan Water District, Local 1902 – representing the workers of Southern California water districts including accountants, designers, electricians, engineers, environmental specialists, inspectors, IT, mechanics, meter technicians, pipelayers, and PR specialists.
Management and Professional Employees Association of the Metropolitan Water District, Local 1001 – representing the management and professional employees of the the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California.
United Nurses Associations of California/Union of Healthcare Professionals (UNAC/UHCP) – representing over 29,000 registered nurses and other health care professionals, including optometrists; pharmacists; physical, occupational and speech therapists; case managers; nurse midwives; social workers; clinical lab scientists; physician assistants and nurse practitioners.
United Domestic Workers of America, Local 3930 (UDW) – representing nearly 98,000 in-home support services (IHSS) workers in 21 California counties who take care of Californians with disabilities, the sick, and the elderly.
United EMS Workers, Local 4911 – representing approximately 4,000 private sector emergency medical services (EMS) workers in California whose mission is to raise standards in EMS and protect services for the public.
Union of American Physicians and Dentists, Local 206 (UAPD) – representing doctors working for the State of California, California counties, non-profit healthcare clinics, and in private practice.
University of California Employees, Local 3299 – the University of California’s largest employee union, representing more than 24,000 employees at UC’s 10 campuses, five medical centers, numerous clinics, research laboratories and UC Hastings College of the Law.
Public Employees Union, Local 1 – representing public employees in Contra Costa, West Contra Costa, Merced, Sutter/Yuba, and El Dorado counties.
Calculating the total dues revenue of AFSCME California’s ten major networks of union locals is difficult; precisely estimating their total number of members is impossible to acquire via publicly available information. Based on the information provided on the websites of these locals, total membership can be guessed at. Four of the AFSCME California networks disclose their membership (in italics, above), totaling 155,000. Examining the descriptions of the other six networks suggests a conservative estimate of an additional 45,000 members. Assuming annual dues revenue of $400 per year per member, AFSCME is collecting $80 million per year. That’s probably on the low side.
The California State Employee Association is an agglomeration of three principle unions, the California State University Employees Union with revenue in 2016 of $7.1 million, the Association of California State Supervisors, with 2016 revenue of $3.4 million, and the powerful Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000, with 96,000 members and 2016 revenue of $63.2 million. Altogether the unions that comprise the California State Employees Association in 2016 collected revenue of $73.7 million.
Including the California Nurses Association among a survey of public sector unions requires some explanation. It clearly would be inaccurate to claim that all their members work in the public sector. For the purposes of this compilation, we will assume that 25% of them work for public healthcare facilities, based, for example, on their penetration of the UC system healthcare networks and many of California’s county medical centers. The CNA claims membership of 80,000 and for 2016 their 990 declared revenue of $107.8 million.
In summary, California’s other major public sector unions, AFSCME, the CSEA including SEIU Local 1000, and the CNA (est. public sector portion at 25%), along with their local affiliates, altogether are probably collecting around $135 million per year.
Based primarily on publicly disclosed 2016 form 990s along with information obtained from their individual websites, in aggregate, California’s major public sector unions are estimated to be collecting $800 million per year.
Because there are undoubtedly smaller and less visible public sector unions operating in California, this number may be conservative. The number is also possibly understated because when making assumptions, conservative estimates were always applied. This was the done when estimating average membership dues in nearly all cases, and also with respect to total membership.
Editor’s Note – 7/15: Notwithstanding the above, because we have learned new information that required us to revise downwards our assumptions regarding the CSEA’s total revenue (including all local affiliates), we must (1) caution any reader that these numbers are difficult to compile precisely because in California there are many hundreds, if not thousands, of individual local public sector union affiliates all filing separate 990 forms, often including financial transfers between entities that have to be offset in any thorough analysis – a nearly impossible task, and (2) upon learning of them, we will diligently correct any further wrong assumptions remaining in this analysis.
California’s Public Sector Unions (including local affiliates)
Estimated Total Membership and Revenues
It would go beyond the scope of this analysis to speculate as to what impact the recent Janus ruling will have on government union membership and revenues, or to ponder the degree and kind of political influence of the three major blocks of unions; teachers, public safety, and public service.
It is relevant, however, to emphasize that the reach of these unions, because many of them are highly decentralized, extends to the finest details of public administration, into the smallest local jurisdictions. When recognizing the profound statewide impact of public sector union political agenda, it is easy to forget that fact, and the implications it carries for virtually every city, county, special district, or school district in California.
Ed Ring co-founded the California Policy Center and served as its first president.
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The reactions from representatives of California’s public sector unions to the Janus ruling are revealing. For any member thinking about quitting these unions, these reactions, and the political agenda they epitomize, bear close scrutiny.
Here are excerpts from a press release regarding Janus on the California Teachers Association website: “Today’s ruling is an attack on working people that attempts to further rig the economy … the decision is the result of a well-funded and nationally orchestrated effort to weaken the ability of working men and women to come together as unions and to speak with one, united voice.”
And here are excerpts from what the Peace Officers Research Association of California had to say about Janus on their website: “This is the dawn of the war against both labor unions and the law enforcement profession in this country, and no association should choose to stand alone. A united voice is more important now than ever before.”
These responses typify the reactions from California’s public sector unions, and there is one major fact they willfully ignore. Janus did not affect private sector unions at all. As always, these government unions pretend they have solidarity with unions that operate in the private sector. They don’t. Government unions don’t have to be reasonable when they negotiate. Instead of putting a company out of business, which is what an unreasonable demand could do to a private company, government unions just elect and control politicians who vote to raise taxes.
What irony. These government unions depend on taxes paid by private sector “working men and women,” yet falsely claim solidarity with them.
While we’re on the topic of solidarity, why on earth would PORAC want to declare solidarity with the teachers union? There are legitimate reasons to criticize police unions, and police officers could probably operate just fine with civil service protection combined with the clout wielded by voluntary associations that didn’t engage in collective bargaining. But police unions did not destroy the effectiveness of law enforcement. They’re actually doing a pretty good job. The teachers union, on the other hand, has nearly destroyed public education.
So why, PORAC, would you need to declare that “a united voice is more important now than ever before”?
Now that union members can stop paying dues, it’s unlikely members of public safety unions will do so. The level of cohesion among public safety professionals, law enforcement, fire fighters, and correctional officers, is far higher than what might unify teachers. The knowledge that public safety professionals may at any time have to face strategically applied cartel violence, or unexpected natural conflagrations of stupefying ferocity, gives them a sense of fellowship that teachers – for all the nobility of their calling – will never know.
Janus isn’t just about quitting the union, however. Even if members choose to continue to pay their dues to public safety unions, that doesn’t mean they can’t hold them more accountable. Public safety unions could channel more of their political activism into helping to counter the leftist political agenda of the teachers unions.
Public safety professionals realize the consequences of leftist policies. Every day they patrol and protect communities ravaged by welfare programs that have destroyed work ethics and dismantled nuclear families. Every day they cope with fallout from gang conflict and drug abuse. Every day they endure the frustration of contending with problems caused by a porous border, ruthlessly controlled on its southern side by the renegade private armies of a corrupt and failed state. Every day they have to mitigate these ongoing and escalating problems while looking over their shoulder to see if they’ve “profiled” someone or committed some similar phony transgression. Every day they have to endure undeserved hostility, funded and fomented by anti-American leftist oligarchs, because of the isolated actions of a vanishingly few bad apples.
For these reasons, public safety unions have, for the most part, stayed in touch with the political sentiments of their members. Their political advocacy at the state and national level has been neutral or conservative.
The teachers union is a completely different story. Many public school teachers, possibly even a majority, witness daily examples of the same consequences of leftist policy. They see the almost unbelievable absurdity of now being forced to allow racial quotas to govern how many students they may suspend or expel. They see the children entering school each day bearing the scars of homes broken by welfare, or devastated by drug abusing parents. They understand the futility of trying to teach effectively when permissiveness is the answer to misbehavior, and the worst teachers are protected at all costs by a fanatical union.
The agenda of the teachers union is preposterously misguided. They want open borders. They promote multiculturalism over assimilation. They’re training young immigrant students to believe that America – the most welcoming, tolerant culture in the history of the world – is a hostile and racist nation where they will inevitably be victims of discrimination. They’ve even gotten rid of English immersion. They’re teaching young boys to deny their masculinity, and training young girls to resent the “patriarchy.” On a scale of deplorable, with ten being the worst, the teachers union is an eleven. Disgruntled members should quit. Immediately. Permanently.
In a perfect world, private sector unions would thrive wherever they were needed – and they often are needed – in a right-to-work environment, and public sector unions would be illegal. But we don’t live in a perfect world.
Until that time, the pretense of solidarity between public safety unions and the teachers union should be openly recognized as fraudulent. And the members, in both these unions, should aggressively use their new rights to hold their leaders politically accountable.
Ed Ring co-founded the California Policy Center and served as its first president.
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Here is a rebuttal to this column by Steven Greenhut.
A Post-Janus Agenda for California’s Public Sector Unions, February 2018
In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement, January 2016
Pension Reform Requires Mutual Empathy, not Enmity, October 2015
Police Unions in America, December 2014
How Much Does Professionalism Cost?, March 2014
Today the U.S. Supreme Court issued their decision in the landmark case Janus vs. AFSCME, ruling that public sector unions can no longer force public employees to pay union dues. Janus argued that even so-called “agency fees,” which unions claim are only for collective bargaining and are therefore non-political, are, in fact, inherently political. As a result, Janus argued that mandatory collection of agency fees violated his first amendment right to free speech.
The court agreed, writing “union speech covers critically important and public matters such as the State’s budget crisis, taxes, and collective bargaining issues related to education, child welfare, healthcare, and minority rights.” We might add that public sector collective bargaining also affects work rules, hirings, terminations and promotions, ‘non-political’ lobbying, get-out-the-vote efforts, funding for educational public relations and academic studies; the list goes on.
Public sector union spending is indeed inherently political, and it is also intensely partisan, overwhelmingly supporting the party of bigger government.
While it was generally expected that the court would rule in favor of the plaintiff, Mark Janus, it was uncertain whether the scope of the ruling would extend to mandating opt-in vs. opt-out. Currently, for that portion of government union dues that are declared by the union to be used for explicitly political purposes – roughly 20% to 30% – members have to go through a laborious and intimidating “opt-out” process. Even as Janus extends that opt-out right to cover all dues, including agency fees, it can still be very difficult for public employees to stop paying these unions.
As it turns out, the court’s decision takes the further step of requiring public employees to opt-in to paying union dues. The court writes “Accordingly, neither an agency fee nor any other form of payment to a public-sector union may be deducted from an employee, nor may any other attempt be made to collect such a payment, unless the employee affirmatively consents to pay.” That is, instead of employees having to ask the union to stop withholding dues, now the union has to ask the employee to start withholding dues.
This is a major enhancement to the scope of the Janus decision, but government unions are working to minimize its impact.
HOW THE UNIONS WILL USE CONTRACTS TO GET EMPLOYEES TO WAIVE THEIR “OPT-IN” RIGHTS
A critical variable, not clearly addressed in today’s Janus decision, is when, and how often, an employee must “affirmatively consent to pay.” Related to this, and also requiring expert legal interpretation, is how requiring an employee to “affirmatively consent to pay” may conflict with contract law. What if the employee waives that right when signing an employment agreement? What if that waiver is buried in a more general employment agreement? Is that enforceable?
Take a look at this actual example of an actual recent agreement between an employee and their government union:
As can be seen, this contract has been modified to read “if I rescind my membership and if existing law changes so that non-members are no longer required by law to contribute, I agree that the contributions authorized above shall continue and this authorization shall automatically renew annually, irrespective of my membership status, unless and until I submit a timely signed revocation of this authorization. To be timely, a revocation must be mailed to OCEA’s office, postmarked between 75 and 45 days before such annual renewal date.”
Has an employee who signs this form, likely along with countless other forms they’ll sign on the first days of their initial employment, from then on permanently waived their right to only opt-in to dues payments? If you opt-in one time, are you stuck having to opt-out from then on? Every year?
To ensure that contracts such as the one featured here are signed, California’s union compliant legislature offers SB 285 and AB-2017, bills that make it difficult, if not impossible, for employers – or anyone else – to discuss the pros and cons of unionization with employees. These bills also refer any alleged violations to the union-packed Public Employment Relations Board instead of the courts.
Then to make the contractually mandated, Janus altering, opt-out process even more difficult, AB 1937 and AB-2049 prohibit local government agencies from unilaterally honoring employee requests to stop paying union dues.
There is an even more fundamental way the unions will try to obliterate the impact of the Janus ruling.
UNIONS MAY ATTEMPT TO FORCE STATE AND LOCAL GOVERNMENTS TO DIRECTLY FUND UNIONS
Some government union advocates have already begun legal research into removing government union funding from any direct relationship to individual government employees. In an 6/27 article on Vox entitled “How Democratic lawmakers should help unions reeling from the Janus decision,” the author argues that since unions only extract around 2% of wages, and since studies show that unionization confers a 17% better wage and benefit package, the employer should simply turn over 2% of total wages to the unions, rather than deduct 2% from individual paychecks. They write: “But if public employers simply paid the 2 percent directly to the unions – giving the same 15 percent raise to employees but not channeling the extra 2 percent through employee paychecks – then there would be no possible claim that employees were being compelled to do anything, and thus no constitutional problem.”
An article published today in Slate makes a similar argument. The authors write: “States can replace their fair-share fee laws with provisions that require or allow public sector employers to subsidize unions directly.” They even claim that such a measure would reduce employee’s tax liabilities since their taxable income would be cut by 2% in order to fund the state’s direct union contribution in a “revenue neutral” manner. To support their argument for this “direct payment alternative” the authors cite a law review article published in 2015 by law professors Aaron Tang of UC Davis, and Benjamin Sachs of Harvard.
The political power of public sector unions in California and other blue states is almost impossible to overstate. Returning governance to elected officials by rolling back the power of these unions will be a long and difficult fight. The highly visible steps the unions are taking or testing – the direct payment alternative, contracts that temporarily or permanently waive an employee’s right to free speech, forced dues for up to one year after opting-out – can be challenged in court. They may also be politically unpopular – direct payments in particular would be a hard sell to voters.
The more subtle ways unions are buttressing their power in the post Janus environment may be harder to stop, and collectively create daunting barriers to reform. Examples including denying right-to-work and pro-free-speech groups access to public employees, forbidding employers to discuss pros and cons of unionization, mandatory new employee “orientations” with union membership commitments filled with fine print and buried in multiple documents requiring a signature, handing dispute resolutions over to the union-packed PERB instead of the courts, broadening the base of employees eligible to join the unions.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill, for government union reformers the post-Janus era “is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
16-1466 Janus v. State, County, and Municipal Employees (06/27/2018) – US Supreme Court
A Time for Choosing: The End of Forced Union Representation – CPC Analysis
A Catalog of California’s Anti-Janus Legislation – CPC Analysis
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Within days the U.S. Supreme Court is going to issue its ruling on the case Janus vs AFSCME. This case, if the ruling goes as expected, is going to overturn current law that requires public employees to pay union dues.
Here in California, along with a handful of other large, urbanized, very blue states, public-sector unions exercise nearly absolute political control. If a local government or school district passes a reform measure the union doesn’t like, the union-controlled state legislature passes a law to reverse it. If a politician criticizes a union prerogative, that politician is targeted and destroyed in the next election. If a business interest challenges the union, they are targeted with retaliatory legislation and bureaucratic harassment. If the union is successfully challenged in court, the union appeals as many times as necessary to nullify the ruling. They have infinite patience, the deepest pockets, and implacable resolve.
Pundits have claimed Janus will have a seismic impact on public sector union power. That is based on the premise that significant numbers of public employees will withdraw from paying union dues if they have the right. Notwithstanding the possibility that many public servants may appreciate that unions allow them to work less and make more than they would have to in the private sector, what if the bureaucratic process to stop paying dues is rendered so tedious that hardly anyone ever stops?
To that end, union-controlled states have already passed laws to make it very difficult to deny public sector unions their dues revenue. As reported by the Heartland Institute:
“New York recently initiated legislation that would empower unions and undermine states workers’ rights. Under current New York law, government workers who voluntarily join a union have been allowed to withdraw from having to pay the union dues deduction ‘at any time’ by notifying their employer. A new bill would terminate the ‘opt out’ clause and only allow workers to withdraw their dues ‘in accordance with the terms of the signed authorization.’ The Empire Center, a nonpartisan think tank headquartered in Albany, New York warns the proposed bill could force state workers to commit financial support to a union for up to 11 months. Another state following New York’s example is Washington State, where a new law was signed in March that mandates state collection of dues for public sector unions. And another bill in Washington would prohibit public employers from informing employees of their ability to avoid having to pay a union.”
These new laws are consistent with what’s been happening in California. As recently detailed in “A Catalog of California’s Anti-Janus Legislation,” public sector unions have supported the following legislation, much of which has already been enacted:
4 – Making employers pay union legal fees if they lose in litigation but not making unions pay employer costs if the unions lose – SB 550
An excerpt from an email obtained by the California Policy Center shows just how completely these public sector unions can dictate instructions to public employers. As depicted in the screen shot below, this email was sent to all of California’s public agencies that employ members of the California School Employees Association (Union). It was sent on June 19th by the CSEA chief counsel.
As can be read, this email requires a union member to receive union approval to revoke their dues, and prohibits the public agency’s payroll department from ending the dues withholding until the union has notified them. Then the email reminds employers that they cannot talk to “more than one employee about their right to drip union membership,” and recommends the employer “refer them over to CSEA to provide an explanation.” Finally, the bill makes all employee orientation information to remain confidential. This officially bypasses any reform group’s ability to find out about these meetings via a Public Records Act Request, and ensures that the union operatives will control the union membership content of the employee orientation.
This is arrogant language. It is offensive. Who runs our public agencies? Public servants elected by the people, or public sector unions? Nonetheless this communique is typical of how public sector unions have ran California’s state legislature and most of its cities, counties and school districts for decades. And in combination with the other measures – requiring notice of membership cancellation to only be permitted during one brief period each year, and automatically reinstating membership every year even for employees who have quit their union, and others – it is probably wishful thinking to expect a Janus ruling to have a serious impact on California’s public sector union power.
With Janus as a critical prerequisite, however, another landmark case is about to be in the spotlight. Lead plaintiff Ryan Yohn, a California public school teacher, has challenged the rules that require him to “opt out” of union membership. His case, which is still burrowing its way through the lower courts, could very well make it to the U.S. Supreme Court. As reported in The 74, “the California teachers argue that the current opt-out process for those who don’t want to pay dues is overly burdensome and also violates the Constitution. Instead, they maintain, educators who want to join should have to affirmatively opt into the union.”
Public sector unions run California, and make a travesty of democratic ideals. To say that government unions are one of the root causes of America’s deepest challenges is not an overstatement. They are one of the biggest funders of left-wing politicians and activists, enabling the Left to a degree far out of proportion to its actual grassroots support among Americans. They distort the political process to further their own interests. They intimidate and coopt business interests, especially in the financial sector. And they benefit whenever and wherever society fails, and government expands its power and reach in response.
Public sector unions should be illegal. Hopefully a strong ruling in the Janus case, followed by a strong ruling in the Yohn case, will both happen before it’s too late.
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