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Without Government Unions, there Would be No Gas Tax Increase

Nobody argues that California’s roads need huge upgrades. But the solution didn’t require the $0.12 per gallon tax hike that goes into effect today. The root cause of these neglected roads – and the reason even more taxes will never be enough to fix them – is the power of public sector unions, whose agenda is consistently at odds with the public interest. Let us count the ways.

1 – CalTrans mismanagement:

CalTrans could have done a much better job of maintaining California’s roads. One of the most diligent critics (and auditors) of CalTrans is state Senator John Moorlach (R, Costa Mesa), the only CPA in California’s state legislature. Last year, Moorlach released a report on CalTrans which he summarized in “7-Step Fix for ‘Mismanaged’ Caltrans,” an article on his official website. Just a few highlights include the following:

  • In May 2014 the Legislative Analyst Office determined that CalTrans was overstaffed by 3,500 architects and engineers, costing over $500 million per year.
  • While to an average state transportation agency outsources over 50% of its work, CalTrans outsources only 10% of its work. Arizona and Florida outsource more than 80%.
  • 54% of CalTrans staff is at or near retirement age, so a hiring freeze would reduce staff merely through attrition, without requiring layoffs.

But Moorlach didn’t make explicit the reason CalTrans is mismanaged. It’s because the unions that run Sacramento don’t want to outsource CalTrans work. The unions don’t want to reduce CalTrans headcount, or hold CalTrans management accountable. Those actions might help Californians, but they would undermine union power.

2 – Bullet train boondoggle:

Money that could have been allocated to maintain and improve California’s roads is being squandered on a train that will do nothing to ameliorate California’s transportation challenges. A LOT of money. According to the American Road and Transportation Builders Association, California’s freeways can be resurfaced and have a lane added in each direction at a cost of roughly $5.0 million per mile in rural areas, about twice that in urban areas.

Meanwhile, the latest estimate for California’s “bullet train,” is $98 billion (that’s $245 million per mile), thanks to construction delays, and design challenges including nearly 50 miles of tunnels through seismically active mountains to the north and south. And hardly anyone is going to ride it. Ridership won’t even pay operating costs. But Sacramento pushes ahead with this monstrous waste when that same money could (at the urban price of $10 million per mile) resurface and add a lane in each direction to 10,000 miles of California’s freeways. Imagine smooth, unclogged roads. It’s not impossible. It’s just policy priorities.

But while bad roads destroy the chassis of millions of cars and trucks, and commuters endure stop-and-go traffic year after year, the California High Speed Rail Authority dutifully pushes on. Why?

Because that’s what the government employee unions want. They don’t want roads, with all the flexibility and autonomy that roads offer. They want to create a gigantic high-speed rail empire, with tens of thousands of new public employees to drive the trains, maintain the trains, maintain the tracks, and provide security, running up staggering annual deficits. But all of them will be members of public sector unions.

3 – All rapid transit boondoggles:

In a handful of very dense urban areas around the U.S., fast intercity trains make economic sense. But most light rail schemes, along with laughably absurd “streetcar” schemes that actually block urban lanes sorely needed by vehicles, do not achieve levels of ridership that even begin to justify their construction when the alternative is using that money for better, wider connector roads and freeways. The impact of ride sharing apps, the advent of non-polluting cars, and the option of using buses to accomplish mass transit goals all speak to the superior versatility of roads over rail for urban transportation.

So why do California’s cities continue to poor billions into light rail and streetcars, when that money could be used to unclog the roads?

To reiterate: The public sector unions that run California want tens of thousands of new public employees to operate the trains and streetcars, maintain them, maintain the tracks, and provide security, running up staggering annual deficits. But doing this means that public sector union membership – hence public sector union power – will increase.

4 – CEQA reform so people can live closer to the jobs:

The median home value in the United States today is $202,700. The median home value in California today is $509,600, 2.5 times as much! There is no shortage of land in California, and the alleged shortages of energy and water are self-inflicted as the result of policies enacted by California’s state legislature. But instead of reforming California’s Environmental Quality Act, SB 375, AB 32, and countless other laws that have made building homes in California nearly impossible, California’s legislature is doubling down on more government solutions – primarily to subsidize either extremely high density housing, or subsidized housing for the economically disadvantaged, or both.

None of this is necessary. Outside of California’s major urban centers, there is no reason homes cannot be profitably built and sold at a median price of $202,700, and there is no reason the people living in those homes cannot drive or ride share to work on fast, unclogged freeways.

But California’s public sector unions want more regulations on home building, and they want more subsidized public housing. Because those solutions, even though inadequate and coercive, enable them to hire vast new bureaucracies to enforce the many regulations and administer the public assets. Unleashing the private sector to build affordable homes in a competitive market would rob these unions of their opportunity to acquire more power. It’s that simple.

5 – Insatiable appetite for pension fund contributions:

According to a California Policy Center study, taking barely adequate annual employer pension contributions into account, the average unionized state/local government worker in California makes over $120,000 per year in pay and benefits. But to adequately fund their promised pension benefits, employers will need to pay at least another $20,000 per employee to the pension funds. This funding gap, which equates to over $20 billion per year, is the additional amount that is required to cover the difference between how much California’s public employee pension funds currently collect from taxpayers, and how much they need to collect to keep the promises that union controlled politicians have made to the government unions they “negotiate” with. That is a best-case scenario.

It could be much worse. A 2016 California Policy Center analysis (ref. table 2-C) estimated that under a worst-case scenario, the annual costs to fund California’s public employee pension funds could cost taxpayers nearly $70 billion more per year than they are currently paying.

And by the way, California’s pension funds are themselves almost entirely under the control of public sector unions – research the background of CalPERS and CalSTRS board directors to verify the degree of influence they have. Absent significant reform, funding California’s public employee pensions is going to continue to consume every dollar in new taxes for the next several decades. The cumulative financial impact of funding these pensions is easily triple that of the bullet train’s $100 billion fiasco, probably much more.

Let’s be perfectly clear. Government unions control California. They collect and spend over $1.0 billion every year, and spend most of that money on either explicit political campaigning and lobbying, or soft advocacy via expensive public relations campaigns and sponsored academic studies. Their presence is felt everywhere, from local transit districts to the governor’s office. They make or break politicians at will, by outspending or outlasting their opponents. At best, California’s most powerful corporate players do not cross these unions, often they collude with them.

California’s public sector unions operate as senior partners in a coalition that includes left-wing oligarchs especially in the Silicon Valley, extreme environmentalists and their powerful trial lawyer cohorts, and the Latino Legislative Caucus – usurped by leftist radicals – and their many allies in the social justice/identity politics industry. The power of this government union led coalition is nearly absolute, and the consequences to California’s private sector working class have been nothing short of devastating.

Government unions force California’s agencies to over-hire, overpay, and mismanage, because that benefits their members even as it harms the public. These unions enforce absurd policy priorities that further harm the public in order to increase their power. They are the reason California has increased its gas tax.

REFERENCES

Pump bump: California drivers to pay 12 cents more per gallon starting Wednesday – San Jose Mercury, Oct. 31, 2017
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/31/pump-bump-california-drivers-to-pay-12-cents-more-per-gallon-starting-wednesday/

California’s gas tax increases Wednesday – Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2017
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-gas-tax-increase-political-battle-20171031-story.html

How much you’ll REALLY pay in gasoline tax in California – San Diego Union Tribune, Apr. 23, 2017
http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/energy-green/sd-fi-california-gastax-20170413-story.html

What Californians Could Build Using the $64 Billion Bullet Train Budget – California Policy Center, Mar. 21, 2017
http://californiapolicycenter.org/what-californians-could-build-using-the-64-billion-bullet-train-budget/

American Road and Transportation Builders Association – FAQs, ref. “How much does it cost to build a mile of road?
https://www.artba.org/about/faq/

High-Speed Rail Delay More than Triples Planned Cost to San Jose – San Jose Inside, Oct. 2, 2017
http://www.sanjoseinside.com/2017/10/02/high-speed-rail-delay-more-than-triples-planned-cost-to-san-jose/

A 13.5-mile tunnel will make or break California’s bullet train – Los Angeles Times, Oct. 21, 2017
http://www.latimes.com/local/california/la-me-bullet-train-tunnel-20171021-story.html

California Environmental Quality Act – Wikipedia
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_Environmental_Quality_Act

State Senate bills aim to make homes more affordable, but they won’t spur nearly enough construction – Los Angeles Times, Aug. 11, 2017
http://www.latimes.com/politics/la-pol-ca-state-housing-deal-effects-20170811-htmlstory.html

California’s Public Sector Compensation Trends – California Policy Center, Jan. 2017
http://californiapolicycenter.org/californias-public-sector-compensation-trends/

What is the Average Pension for a Retired Government Worker in California? – California Policy Center, Mar. 2017
http://californiapolicycenter.org/what-is-the-average-pension-for-a-retired-government-worker-in-california/

The Coming Public Pension Apocalypse, and What to Do About It – California Policy Center, May 2016
http://californiapolicycenter.org/the-coming-public-pension-apocalypse/

 

The Government Union Political Class: Today California, Tomorrow America

Government unions in California collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year. That’s just government unions. That’s just California. They use a small fraction of this money to engage in collective bargaining. They use about a third of it to engage in politics – that’s nearly $700 million per election cycle. The rest, well over a billion per election cycle, goes to “educate” the public.

A billion dollars a year to pursue the government union agenda. You can argue this figure. Maybe it’s $800 million. Maybe, and more likely, it’s $1.2 billion. Nobody knows for sure, because government unions are required to reveal even less about their operations than private unions or public corporations. In an attempt to obtain more accurate membership and dues numbers, we spoke with an expert on public sector unions at Pepperdine University. He said that California has over 6,000 “locals” that have organized government workers into unions. In many cases, each of these locals files their own 990 form with the IRS. Our own analysis, stated in a California Policy Center study “Understanding the Financial Disclosure Requirements of Public Sector Unions,” summed it up as follows:

To amalgamate the financial information provided by literally thousands of local public sector union affiliates across every department and agency throughout California’s 478 incorporated cities and 57 counties would be a herculean task, but it is reasonable to assume that the total annual dues revenue and expenditures of California’s public sector unions is at least twice the total derived from totaling these 16 major organization’s 990 data. Put another way, at the end of 2010, following a lively election season, California’s public sector unions, collectively, were probably still sitting on well over $200 million in cash, and had just spent nearly $1.0 billion dollars on collective bargaining and political activity. It is left to the reader to ascertain why any spending to pursue the agenda of organized government workers is not intrinsically political, but dissecting actual political spending from the sparse data provided in 990 forms is an exercise in futility.

With this kind of money, you can hire a full time, professional army. And they have. When political candidates who are not backed by government unions decide to run for office, they either have to be independently wealthy, or they have to spend nearly all of their time soliciting donations. Campaign “reform” has made it impossible for a candidate to find just one wealthy donor, so unless they’re personally rich, they are in perpetual fundraising mode. The government union backed candidates, on the other hand, are often recruited to run for office by these unions, and have to do nothing more than sign a few forms that have been prepared for them in advance. The unions then run a turn-key operation to put them in office, telling them what to say and where to appear.

That’s not how politics is supposed to work in a democracy. No wonder government unions have taken over nearly every city, county and school district in California, along with the state legislature.

When it comes to “educational” efforts, the government unions spend even more money than they spend on direct political action. From Sacramento outwards to cities, counties and school districts, they hire the most capable consultants that money can buy. The finest attorneys, the most creative and capable public relations professionals, academic experts, polling wizards, media gurus. And, of course, these government unions fund “Think Tanks” that promote their agenda relentlessly.

Without this billion-dollar-a-year torrent of money, political advocacy and policy analysis works the way it’s supposed to work. Political campaigns and policy shops alike are required to present their vision to donors who then decide whether or not to support them. But when these interests, sustained by capricious pittances, are pitted against the government union machine, the outcome is predictable. They lose. And lose. And lose. California is Exhibit A for how a democracy is destroyed by a government that serves itself.

If there wasn’t an intrinsic conflict of interests between what government unions advocate – more power for government agencies and more wealth for government workers, with the welfare of private citizens a secondary concern – perhaps none of this would matter. But California, where government unions have ruled for decades, is a trendsetting travesty of how a democracy is supposed to function. It is a state where appeasing the government unions is a prerequisite for success in business. It is a state where giving up and living on government entitlements is increasingly preferable to trying to make a living when everything – housing, transportation, energy, water, and perpetually rising taxes – is punitively expensive thanks to bad policy choices. And it is a state where unionized government workers earn pay and benefits that average twice as much as what private sector workers earn, rendering them relatively immune to the consequences of their unionized government agenda.

This is America’s future if government unions are not stopped.

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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

 

A Need for Public Sector Collective Bargaining Reform

California business leaders are unanimous in their desire for the California Legislature to proactively improve the state’s business climate, as opposed to only enacting policies that will further hinder economic growth.

But it is far less understood how to actually get to a place where the Legislature both acknowledges that there are major issues with the state’s business climate and works with business leaders to advance solutions.

I have thought long and hard about this issue and believe that public sector collective bargaining reform should be among the top priorities, if not the top priority for the business community to improve the state’s business climate. 

The short answer about why reform is needed is that the state’s current system of collective bargaining locks in high-cost government and prevents meaningful government reforms that will both increase efficiencies and make the state more hospitable to business.

On the surface, the major issues with the state’s business climate are policy-related, namely high-taxation and onerous government regulation.

But the root causes of the state’s poor business climate are really political in nature, and therefore need political solutions.

Most business leaders in California continue to be astonished at how out of touch the California Legislature is with business community and business climate issues.  And again, the root cause of this aloofness is a political problem—the California Legislature is controlled by Democrats who are closely tied to their pro-labor base, namely the state’s public employee unions.

So to move the needle on business climate issues in the California Legislature, political pressure must be applied to the state’s public employee unions.   Ideally, the business community needs to level the political playing field between business and labor and perhaps the best way to do this is through public sector collective bargaining reform.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger saw the nexus between union issues and the California economy in the mid-2000s, but his political approach largely failed because he tried addressing the policies without first addressing the political power of the state’s public employee unions.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was not able to instill the new Pro-Business Policies he desired on account of not first addressing the power that the state’s public employee unions possessed.

 

Pro-business policy change is not possible in the current political environment because the state’s public employee unions are too powerful and can almost always unilaterally defeat all attempts to make the state more business friendly.

Thus, the road to improving the state’s business climate must start with political reform, and I believe public sector collective bargaining reform is the best way to get there.

After all, the establishment of collective bargaining rights for public employees in California is what created the state’s public employee unions to begin with, and gave rise to their ascent to become the most powerful political interest in California.

In 1968, the California Legislature passed the Meyer-Milias-Brown Act, which established collective bargaining for California’s municipal and county employees.  Collective bargaining rights were extended to school districts in 1976, state government employees in 1978, and higher education employees in 1979.

I have served as an expert witness and participant in dozens of major sets of public sector labor negotiations around California over the last six years, including the 2013 labor standoff for the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) and the lead expert witness in labor arbitration for the City of San Francisco over the last two rounds of negotiations.

Based on my experience, I believe that the state’s collective bargaining system is “broken” and serves to lock in unaccountable, unsustainable and high-cost government.

Collective bargaining also serves to empower the state’s public employee unions as the preeminent political force in California by allowing them to not only control government operations at the bargaining table, but also control government through the political process at both the state and local, primarily by giving large sums of political contributions.

The state’s collective bargaining rights were put into place to provide a “reasonable method of resolving disputes regarding wages, hours, and other terms of conditions of employment between public employers and public employee organizations,” according to the Meyers-Milias-Brown Act.

But the actual effect has been to give public sector unions almost unilateral control over both state and local government operations, as well as the state’s political system.

Since every major change to government organization and operation must either be made in the California Legislature, at the ballot box or in collective bargaining—public sector unions are effectively able to even prevent the most common sense reforms such as teacher tenure, merit pay, right to work, and civil service reform.

The state’s collective bargaining process is also deeply flawed and essentially “corrupt” due to unchecked conflicts of interest in the process.  It is standard practice for local elected officials to recuse themselves from votes on legislation that impacts businesses or groups that are contributors to their campaigns, but this standard does not apply to public sector unions.

Public sector unions are legally allowed to make large campaign contributions to the elected officials who are in charge of the collective bargaining process and who ultimately decide what pay and benefit increases public employees are awarded.  The result is a continuous increase in the salaries, benefits and perks of public employees that far exceed their private sector counterparts and any reasonable standards of just public compensation.

Real public sector collective bargaining reform would serve to both control the cost of government, which is essential to limiting the state’s tax burden, as well as limit the ever increasing war chest of campaign contributions afforded to the public sector unions by curbing union dues, which are based on the continuous upward spiral in public employee wage and benefit costs.

The current process is also hugely expensive and inefficient and represents a huge transfer of wealth from the state’s public agencies to law firms and labor attorneys who are key participants in the collective bargaining process.

Thus, collective bargaining reform holds the key to improving the state’s business climate both by controlling the cost of government, and helping level the political playing field between the business community and public sector unions in the state’s political process, which will serve to produce a more business-friendly political environment.

About the Author: David Kersten is an expert in public policy research and analysis, particularly budget, tax, labor, and fiscal issues. He currently serves as the president of the Kersten Institute for Governance and Public Policy – a moderate non-partisan policy think tank and public policy consulting organization. The institute specializes in providing knowledge, evidence, and training to public agencies, elected officials, policy advocates, organization, and citizens who desire to enact public policy change.

How Government Unions are Hypocrites that Betray the Public

Government unions are not unions in any traditional sense of the word. They elect the bosses they “negotiate” with. They are paid through compulsory taxes rather than via a company that has to earn a profit in the competitive market. And they operate the machinery of government which allows them extraordinary latitude to intimidate any business interests who may challenge their agenda.

Among the informed, these assertions are beyond serious debate. Even supporters of government unions acknowledge them – just not on the record. But to inform the public, it is probably too abstract to question the legitimacy of government unions because they “elect their own bosses,” “use taxpayers money instead of earned profits,” or “control the bureaucracy.” Perhaps instead it is better to explain how union control of government harms people in their everyday lives.

To that end, here is a partial list of how the actions of government unions contradict their rhetoric, and betray the public they are supposed to serve:

(1) Demonizing “Profits.” From the classroom teacher to the professionally prepared press release, the rhetoric of government unions promotes the idea that “corporate profits” are unjust. The academic focus from primary school through public universities is invariably swayed, thanks to government unions, to challenge the capitalist system. Yet without profits there are no tax revenues. Governments survive financially because corporations make profits. Government unions support legislation that has made California the toughest state in the U.S. to do business. The impact: Brainwashed youth, and fewer successful companies offering fewer good jobs.

(2)  Demonizing “Millionaires and Billionaires.” Government union rhetoric frequently resorts to accusing anyone who wants to expose their destructive hypocrisy as funded by “millionaires and billionaires,” as if that should automatically nullify their arguments. These unions have carefully nurtured a public hostility and resentment towards individual wealth. The problem, however, is that almost anyone who retires after a full career in public service is a millionaire – often many times over. The average full career pension for California’s state and local government workers is over $70,000 per year. The ordinary private sector worker would have to save at least $1.5 million to generate a $70,000 annuity for the rest of their life – with no guarantees. The impact: Higher taxes and reduced services to support government worker pensions that make them all millionaires, leaving the rest of us behind to pay for it.

(3) Defending “Working Families.” That is one of the mantras of the government unions. Fighting for the “working families.” But how does this work in reality? California is one of the hardest states to practice a profession or trade. Certifications and licenses require prohibitive amounts of time and money, excluding the most deserving, aspiring citizens. Workman’s Compensation insurance rates are among the highest in the U.S., making it much harder for small companies to compete and grow their businesses. Crippling regulations. Absurdly time consuming and expensive permitting processes. The impact: Reduced upward mobility, far less opportunities for low income entrepreneurs.

(4) Always “For the Children.” The level of hypocrisy here almost defies description. Government unions have imposed their agenda on education, turning public schools into propaganda mills, indoctrinating students to believe their success or failure in life is primarily determined by whether or not they have “privilege,” and whether or not the state provides sufficient benefits, instead of teaching them the skills they will need to succeed in life on their own. Government unions have defeated any meaningful attempts to hold teachers accountable, or allow principals and superintendents to effectively manage. What they have done to California’s rising generation of students can be accurately characterized as child abuse. The impact: A generation of Californians who are unprepared to assume the responsibilities of adulthood.

(5) Respect for “Contracts.” The selective moral outrage mustered by government unions when it comes to “contracts” is exemplified by their response to pension reformers who want to lower the pension benefit formulas – just for work to be performed in the future. Because back in 1999, these same unions lobbied successfully to raise pension benefit formulas not just from then on, but back to the day each active government worker began their career. According to the same body of California contract law, they claim these retroactive benefit increases were justified, yet they fight – and win – in court whenever anyone tries to decrease these same benefits only from now on. The impact: Taxpayers are condemned to bail out these financially unsustainable pensions.

(6)  Fighting “Big Money in Politics.” The problem with this ersatz fight by government unions is simple: In state and local elections in California, nobody spends as much money as government unions. Just government unions, just in California, collect and spend over $1.0 billion per year in dues. About one-third of that, nearly $700 million every election cycle, is spend explicitly on politics and lobbying. An equal share probably goes to public education campaigns designed to promote the government union agenda. There is no special interest anywhere with the means, much less the desire, to challenge these unions. They are active in every political contest, no matter how small or how big, with access to as much cash as they need. The impact: Unions are the “big money in politics,” and their interests trump the public interest.

(7) Fighting “Big Business.” By now it should be clear enough – “big business” has no interest in challenging government unions. They collude instead, in a partnership where the government unions – who control legislation that will either favor or thwart business interests – are the dominant partner. And why shouldn’t big business partner with government unions? When oppressive regulations drive innovative competitors out of business, the monopolistic established corporations have the financial resources to comply. Why not let excessive government regulations destroy the competition? The impact: Less innovation, fewer new jobs, higher prices to consumers.

(8) Fighting “Wall Street.” This is the most ridiculous claim of all by government unions. Because when government unions successfully negotiate pay, benefit and hiring decisions that cause government deficits, Wall Street firms make billions underwriting new bond issues. And when government unions negotiate pension benefit enhancements, the union controlled pension funds invest even more money with Wall Street firms including hedge funds and private equity funds. Government is Wall Street’s biggest customer. The Wall Street influenced policies that have destroyed the ability of ordinary Americans to save for retirement or buy an affordable home have been a boon to the super rich and the pension funds. The impact: The government union alliance with Wall Street is a major factor in the hollowing out of America’s middle class.

The fact that most Californians still don’t understand the difference between government unions and private sector unions should come as no surprise. Government unions have spent literally billions of dollars over the past decades, hiring the best professional public relations talent in the world, to convince Californians they are on their side. But they’re not. Quite the contrary. Their hypocrisy is only matched by their corrosive impact on our economy, our freedom, and our democracy.

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Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

RELATED POSTS

Government Unions Benefit from the Asset Bubble that Harms Workers, July 19, 2016

Government Unions and the Financialization of America, May 24, 2016

The Hypocrisy of Public Sector Unions, March 15, 2016

Public Unions ARE the Political “Establishment,” February 23, 2016

In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement, January 19, 2016

The Alliance Between Wall Street and Public Unions, December 1, 2015

Moral Values That Underlie Opposition to Government Unions, October 13, 2015

How Government Unions Are Destroying America, September 22, 2015

Deceptive and Misleading Claims – How Government Unions Fool the Public, September 8, 2015

The Ideology of Public Sector Unions vs. Private Sector Unions, February 20, 2012

The Differences Between Public and Private Sector Unions, May 13, 2011

Populist Unity Can Overcome the Establishment's Supermajority

Back in 2012 we published an article entitled “The Forgotten 33%,” which included a graphic entitled “American Voter Breakdown 2012.” It depicted the U.S. electorate as comprised of 46% who pay zero net taxes, 20% who work for the government and are net tax consumers, the 1% “super rich,” and the “forgotten 33%,” who work in the private sector and earn enough to be positive net taxpayers.

The point of the article, then and now, was that people with an intrinsic preference for big government comprise a super-majority of voters in America. But something has changed since 2012…

AMERICAN VOTER BREAKDOWN 2016
20160712-UW-AtlasGeneration

The emergence of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders as serious contenders to become president of the U.S. reflects a growing awareness among voters in all of the above categories that things can and should be better. The 33% who constitute America’s beleaguered taxpayers were angry four years ago, and this time around they’re furious. Their ire is the most easily explained: Now more than ever, they work long hours for less wages or lower profits, all while being told by the establishment press, by mainstream academia, and by left-wing politicians that they’re “privileged,” and still aren’t paying their “fair share.” If they’re white, they’re told their success is the undeserved result of their color, when in fact they’ve been the recipients of institutionalized reverse discrimination for nearly two generations. And no matter what their ethnicity, they confront soaring prices for housing, health care, and college tuition for their children.

The 33% who work and make enough to pay taxes are angry. And they should be. But what about the 46% who pay no net taxes?

The anger of the 46% takes various forms, nearly all of it justified. Many of them work, but qualify for the earned income tax credit and subsidized health care, which makes them net tax consumers. Many of them would like to work harder, but the only jobs available are part-time with unpredictable schedules which makes it impossible for them to work two jobs. Many of them would like to get a better education, but they are the products of failing schools where teacher tenure is more important than student achievement. And if they’re people of color and haven’t yet been successful, they’re perpetually told by the establishment press, by mainstream academia, and by left-wing politicians that they are victims of discrimination and their failures are not their responsibility – fueling additional anger.

And what of the 20% who work for the government? They are, for the most part, ensured decent health care and a secure retirement. But they are the targets of relentless propaganda from their unions, who have waged a multi-decade campaign to convince them they are underpaid, underappreciated, and overworked. Many of them succumb to this nonsense. Others, and more than a few, are disgruntled for the opposite reason – they resent working for a unionized government where merit means less than seniority, and innovation is a threat.

But why are taxes consuming the 33%? Why are opportunities for good jobs and education being denied the 46%? And why does government get bigger every year but deliver less?

There’s a simple answer. Government unions. Especially at the state and local level, government unions have destroyed our public schools and driven our public institutions to the brink of bankruptcy. These government unions perpetually lobby for higher taxes, bigger government – more employees with more pay and benefits, more job killing regulations, and more programs ostensibly intended to help the less fortunate – regardless of their cost or actual effectiveness. The government union agenda is to increase their power and influence – a goal that has no connection with the public interest.

Government unions control state and local politicians, who in turn control every scrap of legislation sought after by big business. They encourage and enable cronyism. Their union controlled pension funds and their union backed government bond underwriting make them the biggest players on Wall Street. They ARE the “establishment” that has gotten everyone so agitated this time around.

Donald Trump, for all his hapless gaffes and hideous vitriol, is far too intelligent to identify government unions as the root cause of most of the problems in America. Unions make or break Trump’s development projects. And even if Trump did attack the government unions, he’d risk confusing voters, who by and large still don’t make a distinction between public and private sector unions.

Bernie Sanders, despite his belated attempts to pander to the African American left by challenging police organizations, is unwilling or unable to make the distinction between police personnel, whom we are lucky to have among us, and police unions that protect bad cops and intimidate politicians. And even if Sanders did take on the police unions, he would never take on the teachers unions – despite the fact they’ve practically destroyed public education in America.

Populist anger in America today is justified, and there is a unifying target for the anger – the “establishment” as represented by government unions and their clients; monopolistic corporations, America’s overbuilt financial sector, and the extreme environmentalist lobby that provides a phony moral cover for their iniquitous schemes. If public sector unions were illegal, this entire corrupt establishment would be threatened as never before. As it is, this awakening national dissent has seismic power, diffused in all directions, turning only on itself.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Populist Candidates Still Ignore Government Unions

Nearly every objection that supporters of presidential candidates Trump and Sanders raise to the establishment are intimately associated with government unions. But neither the people’s voice, or that voice as it is reflected back to them by their populist heroes, articulates this fact.

(1) Do you want to reform Wall Street?

You’ll have to go through the government unions. Their union controlled pension funds are the biggest players on Wall Street. The union controlled cities that issue hundreds of billions in municipal bonds every year are a close second. Government unions benefit from the financialization of the American economy, even as it has wiped out the middle class. Low interest loans elevate prices for homes, which stimulates borrowing and consumer spending, which enriches corporations and the pension funds who invest in their stocks. High home prices raise property tax revenues. Low interest loans mean families can borrow more for college tuition – so unionized professors can continue to make six figure salaries for teaching a few hours a week, a few months a year.

(2) Do you want to restore reasonableness to America’s environmental regulations?

You’ll have to go through the government unions. In California, state and local jobs, from bus drivers to code inspectors, are being redefined to incorporate “global warming mitigation.” This is so they can share in the plunder associated with “carbon emission offset auction proceeds,” billions, soon to be tens of billions, in annual taxes by any other name, hidden in your utility bills and in the cost of manufactured goods – all ran quietly through a Delaware corporation. And why widen a freeway, when you can create thousands of government union jobs in mass transit?

(3) Do you want to reform campaign finance laws?

Forget about it. The government unions are by far the biggest single political spenders. Thanks to their legislated opacity – less disclosure is required for government unions than for private unions, believe it or not – we can only guess, but government unions collect and spend at least a billion dollars per year, just in California. Depending on how you define it, you can argue that ALL of that money is spent on politics. A billion per year – put to very effective use. And by the way, unions have benefit from the supposedly infamous “Citizens United” ruling just as much as corporations and wealthy individuals.

(4) Do you feel that big business exploits consumers?

Do you resent crony capitalists monopolizing entire industries and artificially raising the costs of goods in a market where they’ve used government rules to eliminate emerging competitors? In California, you can blame the government unions. Businesses doing business anywhere in California know that if they adhere to the union’s political agenda, they will get favorable legislation passed, and if they don’t, they will be targeted. Government unions are the brokers and enablers of corporate abuse.

(5) Do you support immigration reform?

Specifically, do you think it is reasonable to limit most immigration to skilled individuals, at a pace that will not challenge the ability of our society to culturally and economically assimilate the newcomers? Do you feel there should at least be a meaningful discussion on this issue? Forget about it. Because you’d have to go through the government unions, who want unlimited immigration; especially those most destitute and unlikely to assimilate. The more dependency there is in America, the more unionized government jobs are created. Police, prison guards, social workers – and an entire crony corporate infrastructure to support them. All paid for by the middle class.

(6) Do you want to rebuild America’s roads and bridges?

Are you even one of those heretics who believes, gasp, that we should develop our energy resources, build more power plants, store more storm runoff, and recycle 100% of our sewage, so that we can have energy and water abundance? Dream on. Government unions want scarcity, because with artificial scarcity there will be more government jobs enforcing what is effectively rationing. And never forget, if we were to spend tax revenue on infrastructure, there would be less money to cover pay and benefit packages for unionized government workers that average, in California, TWICE what the average private sector worker earns.

(7) Do you want to see the next generation properly educated?

Fat chance. Unionized public schools protect incompetent teachers instead of putting children first. And they promote curricula designed to alienate young people from American culture instead of encouraging them to feel proud and privileged to be American. If you want to have any chance to fix America’s public schools, you have to take down the teachers union.

(8) Do you fear America’s federal, state and local governments drifting towards authoritarianism?

You’d better, because not only is that the common thread underlying this entire litany of government dysfunction, but technology is making it easier than ever to enforce authoritarian laws. Where you drive. How far you drive. When you use electricity. How much water you consume. What products you buy. Who you know. And of course, every detail of your interactions with the internet or cable television. It’s all monitored. And who protects the corrupt enforcers, the bad apples? The unions. And who has an inherent interest in bigger, more intrusive government, no matter if it’s good or bad for the public at large? The unions.

If Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump had the courage and the vision to tell that truth, they might ignite a populist uprising that would be utterly bipartisan. But that revolution will have to wait for another day.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

RELATED POSTS

Government Unions and the Financialization of America, May 24, 2016

Public Safety Unions and the Financial Apocalypse, May 17, 2016

Unionize the Personal Assistants to the One-tenth-of-one-percenters, May 3, 2016

California’s Economically Illiterate Legislature, April 5, 2016

Practical Reforms to “Right-Size” Government Unions, March 29, 2016

The Challenges Facing Conservatives Who Support Public Safety, March 22, 2016

Public Unions ARE the Political “Establishment”, February 23, 2016

The Future of Unions in the Post-Scalia Era, February 16, 2016

In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement, January 19, 2016

The Alliance Between Wall Street and Public Unions, December 1, 2015

How Government Unions Are Destroying America, September 22, 2015

When Will Unions Fight to Lower the Cost of Living?, October 27, 2015

Moral Values That Underlie Opposition to Government Unions, October 13, 2015

The Abundance Choice, December 23, 2014

An Economic Win-Win For California – Lower the Cost of Living, December 3, 2014

The Challenge Libertarians Face to Win American Hearts, October 14, 2014

Reinventing America’s Unions for the 21st Century, September 2, 2014

California’s Green Bantustans, May 21, 2014

A “Left-Right Alliance” Against Public Sector Unions?. May 20, 2014

The Unholy Trinity of Public Sector Unions, Environmentalists, and Wall Street, May 6, 2014

Construction Unions Should Fight for Infrastructure that Helps the Economy, April 1, 2014

Forming a Bipartisan Consensus for Public Sector Union Reform, January 28, 2014

A Policy Agenda for Union Reformers Stuck Inside Unions, November 5, 2013

Why the Democratic Party Cannot Embrace Public Sector Union Reform, October 15, 2013

Exponential Technological Advances and the Role of Unions, July 23, 2013

The Prosperity Agenda, April 2, 2013

Calling for Public Sector Union Reform is Not Anti-Union, January 29, 2013

The Ideology of Public Sector Unions vs. Private Sector Unions, February 20, 2012

America’s Atlas Generation – The Forgotten 33%, January 9, 2012

Government Unions and the Financialization of America

Financialization – “a pattern of accumulation in which profit making occurs increasingly through financial channels rather than through trade and commodity production.”
–  Greta Krippner, University of Michigan (source Wikipedia)

If you want one word to describe the biggest threat to the American economy, “financialization” would be the prime candidate. This is a threat that has no ideology. The left tends to blame economic challenges on the excessive power of oligarchs. The libertarian right tends to blame economic challenges on excessive regulations emanating from oversized government. But financialization empowered the oligarchs. And financialization is the toxic remedy that has, for a time, enabled oversized government.

Krippner’s analysis of financialization goes beyond its obvious manifestations – the most obvious being the loophole that allows hedge fund managers to avoid paying ordinary income tax on the billions in bonuses they earn when they get lucky placing bets with other people’s money. An excellent in-depth article in Time Magazine published on May 12th, entitled “American Capitalism’s Great Crisis,” quotes Krippner’s deeper explanation of how financialization began:

“The changes were driven by the fact that in the 1970s, the growth that America had enjoyed following World War II began to slow. Rather than make tough decisions about how to bolster it, politicians decided to pass that responsibility to the financial markets. The Carter-era deregulation of interest rates—something that was, in an echo of today’s overlapping left-and right-wing populism, supported by an assortment of odd political bedfellows from Ralph Nader to Walter Wriston, then head of Citibank—opened the door to a spate of financial “innovations” and a shift in bank function from lending to trading. Reaganomics famously led to a number of other economic policies that favored Wall Street. Clinton-era deregulation, which seemed a path out of the economic doldrums of the late 1980s, continued the trend. Loose monetary policy from the Alan Greenspan era onward created an environment in which easy money papered over underlying problems in the economy, so much so that it is now chronically dependent on near-zero interest rates to keep from falling back into recession.”

Carter. Reagan. Clinton. It’s important to document the bipartisan emergence of financialization. It can’t be unwound, or even discussed accurately, simply by referring to conventional ideological schisms. The impact of financialization in America has been to enable private households and government agencies to spend more than they take in, and to make up the difference by borrowing more than they can ever hope to pay back. And through it all, for the past 40+ years, the financial sector has extended the credit, accumulating more power and profit every step of the way. Ideology and partisanship provided the justifications and the means, but they came from the right and the left.

Estimates vary as to how much corporate profit now accrues to the financial sector in the U.S., but range between 25% and 40%. By comparison, in Germany the financial sector earns about 6% of corporate profits. America’s overbuilt financial sector attracts the brightest college graduates. Math majors who might have gone into applied physics, engineering, chemistry, now migrate to Manhattan and work for the hedge funds.

Closer to home, here’s how financialization has harmed ordinary Americans:

  • Created an incentive through low interest rates and tax law for people to borrow instead of save,
  • Rendered housing and college tuition unaffordable, thanks to low interest rates inducing borrowers to bid up prices,
  • Destroyed the ability of thrifty households to save, because only risky investments offer adequate returns,
  • The emphasis on shareholder value above all else has depressed wages and driven jobs overseas,
  • Attracted brilliant innovators to work for financial firms (which produce nothing) instead of actual industries that create jobs and national wealth.

There’s more – and this is the least discussed but perhaps the most significant consequence of financialization. It expands the public sector, and it helps public sector unions. Here’s how:

  • Governments can expand beyond the capacity of their tax revenues by borrowing at low interest rates,
  • Government unions can negotiate over-market pay and benefits, relying on borrowing to cover deficits,
  • Government pension funds can make risky investments with the taxpayers backing them up,
  • As financialization drives middle class citizens into poverty, the government expands its aid programs.

The connection between government unions and the financial oligarchs who currently run both political party establishments may be abstruse, but it isn’t trivial. They have a common interest in a financialized economy; a common interest in seeing what is now the biggest credit bubble – as a percent of GDP – in American history get even bigger. This is explicitly contrary to the interests of ordinary Americans. The awakening grassroots resistance to the financialization of America explains the rise of populism in 2016, and it’s just begun.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the President of the California Policy Center.

The Challenges Facing Conservatives Who Support Public Safety

Everyone supports public safety, but conservatives are a special case. In modern times, it was conservatives, reacting against the rebellious sixties and the lawless seventies, who supported law enforcement when it was fashionable for liberals to see them as pawns of a discredited establishment. It was also during the 1960’s and ’70’s that we saw public safety unions acquire far more political power and influence, a rise fueled in part by an entirely justifiable resentment they felt at how they were treated by the media and in popular culture.

It’s a different world now. The riots of the sixties and the crime waves of the seventies have been replaced by new threats. Now we have global terrorist groups with access to new technologies that can unleash destruction at a scale unimaginable a generation ago. We have organized crime of unprecedented sophistication; drug cartels, cyber criminals, modern-day slavery networks. The United States, statistically, is a safer place than it’s ever been, but it doesn’t feel that way, and continual reminders at home and abroad reinforce these feelings of insecurity.

Conservatives have traditionally focused on prioritizing law and order for good reasons. They understand that when crime directly affects an individual, often with tragic consequences, all the statistics that prove we are safer than ever become meaningless. Conservatives understand this without having to necessarily have personally experienced the trauma of crime or conflagration. Their empathy, powerful and enduring, extends both to the victims who need protection, and to those individuals who risk their lives to perform jobs in public safety.

Along with supporting law and order, however, conservatives also cherish the values of financial sustainability and organizational efficiency. Moreover, conservatives are as zealous as conscientious liberals when it comes to supporting individual rights and fighting corruption. And for these reasons, while conservatives may support the institutions of public safety and the individuals who work in public safety, they can find themselves objecting to the power and influence of the unions that represent public safety.

The challenge facing conservatives who support public safety comes down to this: The unions that represent police and firefighters have the same problematic essence as every other union representing government workers. They use massive amounts of taxpayer-sourced money – more than $1.0 billion in dues collected each year by state and local government unions just in California – to elect the politicians who they then “negotiate” with. There are no natural checks on how much they can ask for in pay and benefits, because unlike unions in the private sector, they don’t work for organizations that have to earn a precarious profit by convincing consumers to voluntarily buy their product in a competitive market. They are a monopoly. And, of course, they can use government itself to intimidate their critics, especially business interests who might otherwise oppose their agenda.

It’s hard to do, but conservatives who want to get taxes and spending under control in the cities and counties where they live are going to have to differentiate between their respect for men and women in uniform, and the agenda of the unions who represent them. They will have to confront a fundamental union premise, that pay and benefits must always rise, and can never fall to reflect economic realities and other service priorities.

If conservatives want to fight corruption, they are going to have to stand up to the unions who make it difficult if not impossible to discipline or fire that small minority of public safety employees – inevitably found in any large organization of any kind – who are criminals or incompetents.

And if conservatives want to slow the growth of government and the growth of burdensome regulations that have made California among the most difficult states in America to run a business or afford a home, they have to recognize that more laws means more law enforcement – for things that go well beyond public safety, yet represent more power and influence for public safety unions.

For their part, members of public safety unions, and their leadership, might try to remember that the issues where some conservatives may disagree with the union agenda are not as significant as the issues where they agree. And they might acknowledge that opposition to parts of their political agenda, or calls to restrict the bargaining scope of their union, or even calls to abolish their union altogether, do not signify a lack of respect, support or empathy for the men and women of law enforcement.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

RELATED POSTS

San Jose City Council Capitulates to Police Union Power, August 18, 2015

Can Unionized Police Be Held Accountable for Misconduct?, June 23, 2015

Pension Reformers are not “The Enemy” of Public Safety, April 20, 2015

Police Unions in America, December 9, 2014

How Much Does Professionalism Cost?, March 11, 2014

Conservative Politicians and Public Safety Unions, May 13, 2014

 

 

The Hypocrisy of Public Sector Unions

During the industrial age, labor unions played a vital role in protecting the rights of workers. Skeptics may argue that enlightened management played an equally if not greater role, such as when Henry Ford famously raised the wages of his workers so they could afford to buy the cars they made, but few would argue that labor unions were of no benefit. Today, in the private sector, the labor movement still has a vital role to play. There may be vigorous debate regarding how private sector unions should be regulated and what restrictions should be placed on their activity, but again, few people would argue they should not exist.

Public sector unions are a completely different story.

The differences between public and private sector unions are well documented. They operate in monopolistic environments, in organizations that are funded through compulsory taxes. They elect their bosses. They operate the machinery of government and can use that power to intimidate their political opponents.

Despite these fundamental differences in how they operate, public unions benefit from the still common perception that they are indistinguishable from private unions, that they make common cause with all workers, that they are looking out for us. This is hypocrisy on an epic scale.

Hypocrites regarding the welfare of our children

The most obvious example of public sector union hypocrisy is in education, where the teachers unions almost invariably put the interests of the union ahead of the interests of teachers, and put the interests of students last. This was brought to light during the Vergara case, which the California Teachers Association (CTA) claimed was a “meritless lawsuit.” What did the plaintiffs ask for? They wanted to (1) modify hiring policies so excellence rather than seniority would be the criteria for dismissal during layoffs, (2) they wanted to extend the period before granting tenure which in its current form permits less than two years of actual classroom observation, and (3) they wanted to make it easier to dismiss teachers who were incompetents or criminals.

When the Vergara case was argued in court, as can be seen in this mesmerizing video of the attorney for the plaintiffs’ closing arguments, the expert testimony he referred to again and again was from the witnesses called by the defense! When the plaintiffs can rely on the testimony of defense witnesses, the defendants have no case. But in their appeal, the defense attorneys are fighting on. Using your money and mine.

The teachers unions oppose reforms like Vergara, they oppose free speech lawsuits like Friedrichs vs. the CTA, they oppose charter schools, they fight any attempts to invoke the Parent Trigger Law, and they are continually agitating for more taxes “for the children,” when in reality virtually all new tax revenue for education is poured into the insatiable maw of Wall Street to shore up public sector pension funds. No wonder education reform, which inevitably requires fighting the teachers unions, has become an utterly nonpartisan issue.

Hypocrites regarding the management of our economy

Less obvious but more profound are the many examples of public union hypocrisy on the issue of pensions. To wit:

(1)  Public pension systems don’t have to comply with ERISA, which means they are able to use much higher rate-of-return assumptions. Private sector pensions are required to make conservative investments and offer modest but financially sustainable pensions. Public pensions operate under a double standard. They make aggressive investment assumptions in order to reduce required contributions by their members, then hit up taxpayers to cover the difference.

(2)  One of the reasons you haven’t seen the much ballyhooed extension of pension opportunities to all workers in California is because the chances they’ll offer a plan where the fund promises a return of 7.0% per year are ZERO. Once they’re forced to disclose the actual rate-of-return assumptions they’re prepared to offer, and why, the naked hypocrisy of the public sector pension plans using higher rate-of-return assumptions will be revealed in terms everyone can understand.

(3)  When the internet bubble was still inflating back in the late 1990’s, and stock values were soaring, public sector unions didn’t just agitate for, and receive, enhancements to pension benefit formulas. They received benefit enhancements that were applied retroactively. Public pensions are calculated by multiplying the number of years someone worked by a “multiplier,” and that product is then multiplied by their final salary (or average of the last few years salary) to calculate their pension. Retroactive enhancements meant that this multiplier, which was increased by 50% in most cases, was applied to past years worked, increasing pensions for imminent retirees by 50%. Now, with pension funds struggling financially, reformers want to decrease the multiplier, but not retroactively, which would be fair per the example set by the unions, but only for years still to be worked – only prospectively. And even that is off the table according to the unions and their attorneys. This is obscenely hypocritical.

(4)  Take a look at this CTA webpage that supports the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. What the CTA conveniently ignores is that the pension systems they defend are themselves the biggest players on Wall Street. In an era of negative interest rates and global deleveraging, public employee pension funds rampage across the globe, investing over $4.0 trillion in assets with the expectation of earning 7.0% per year. To do this they condone what Elias Isquith, writing for Salon, describes as “shameless financial strip-mining.” These funds benefit from corporate stock buy backs, which is inevitably paid for by workers. They invest with hedge funds and private equity funds, they speculate in real estate – more generally, pension systems with unrealistic rate-of-return expectations require asset bubbles to continue to expand even though that is killing the middle class in the United States. This gives them common cause with the global financial elites who they claim they are protecting us from.

(5)  In America today most workers are required to pay into Social Security, a system that is progressive whereby high income people get less back as a percentage of what they put in, a system that is adjustable whereby benefits can be reduced to ensure solvency, a system that never speculates on the global investment market. You may hate it or love it, but as long as private citizens are required to participate in Social Security, public servants should also be required to participate. That they have negotiated for themselves a far more generous level of retirement security is hypocritical.

The hypocrisy of public sector unions isn’t just deplorable, it’s dangerous. Because public unions have used the unfair advantages that accrue when they operate in the public sector to acquire power that is almost impossible to counter. Large corporations and wealthy individuals are the natural allies of public sector unions, especially at the state and local level, where these unions will rubber-stamp any legislation these elite special interests ask for, in return for support for their wage and benefit demands. Public unions both impel and enable corporatism and financialization. They are inherently authoritarian. They are inherently inclined to support bigger government, no matter what the cost or benefit may be, because that increases their membership and their power. They are a threat to our democratic institutions, our economic health, and our freedom.

And they are monstrous hypocrites.

 *   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

Good Fortune Shines on Teachers Unions

California’s teachers unions have been described as the most powerful force affecting state government. Recently, however, threats to the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers have arisen on a number of fronts, yet over the last couple of weeks those threats seemed to be minimized by political pressure, apparent sympathetic judges, and even an act of God.

First came the death of United States Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Before Scalia’s demise, he sat at the hearing of the Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association case, which challenged the union’s right to collect agency fees from all teachers to represent them in collective bargaining. Friedrichs and her teacher colleagues argued that all activities of CTA are political and therefore offering dues to the organization was backing a political agenda with which some teachers did not agree.

Most observers who watched the oral arguments believed that the Supreme Court would rule 5 to 4 in favor of Friedrichs, with Scalia a member of the majority. In other states in which public union members were given the freedom to withhold dues to their union there was a considerable drop-off in fees paid thus weakening the political influence of the unions. Many expected a similar result in California if the court supported the Friedrichs side.

However, with Scalia’s passing it is anticipated that the remaining justices will split on the Friedrichs case resulting in a 4 to 4 tie. If that occurs, the Appellate Court ruling that favored the teachers union will stand.

In another case, a challenge to teacher tenure rules was argued before a Los Angles state appellate court. In the Superior Court, Vergara v. California was decided in favor of nine public school students who argued that the current tenure laws and seniority rules harm school children particularly in poor communities. Lawyers for the students argued that bad teachers are difficult to fire and are often shifted to teaching positions in those poor communities. The teachers unions vociferously argued that eliminating the teacher tenure laws will weaken the profession.

Reports from the hearing last week before the appellate court indicated that two of the three judges expressed skepticism with the decision of Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu. If the questioning were a reflection of the court’s thinking, the Vergara decision likely would be overturned.

It wasn’t just the courtroom where good fortune seemed to follow the teachers unions.

Last week, proponents for the anti-poverty property tax increase measure decided to pull the measure from petition circulation despite having over a million dollars to help qualify the initiative and a stack of petition signatures in hand. Had this property tax measure remained on the ballot, it could weigh down the campaign to pass the Proposition 30 income tax extension backed by the teachers unions.

The unions wanted the property tax gone for a couple of reasons.

One too many taxes on the ballot might convince voters that all taxes deserve a no vote. Property taxes are a local tax with a share of the property tax going to schools. Creating a state controlled property tax designated for purposes that exclude the traditional school funding was anathema to the unions. The teachers unions and their allies inside and outside the government put immense pressure on the initiative proponents to pull their measure.

Whether due to political pressure, sympathetic judges, or an act of God, good fortune shined on the teachers unions as they moved to preserve their powerful position in state politics.

 *   *   *

Joel Fox is Editor of Fox & Hounds and President of the Small Business Action Committee. This article originally appeared in Fox & Hounds and appears here with permission.

Public Unions ARE the Political "Establishment"

The successes of anti-establishment presidential candidates are a powerful reminder that mainstream politicians are not managing America’s political economy or cultural evolution in a way that satisfies most of the electorate. That’s no surprise – it’s a tough job these days, with few historical precedents to offer guidance.

Earlier this week an essay published in the Asia Times, “A Millennial conundrum: Communism and youth,” offered a concise set of reasons why so many millennials are supporting democratic socialist candidate Bernie Sanders. The author, Chan Akya, didn’t chastise these youth for their selfish naivete, caused by receiving too many participation trophies during their sheltered childhoods. Instead he gave the following reasons:

(1)  Sharing economy: Technology has propelled sharing into new markets, from cars and vacation homes after opening up personal space on platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. For people with itinerant lifestyles driven by mobility in jobs, such a sharing economy may end up shaking the very foundations of property rights – everyone is essentially a tenant at prevailing market rates for everything, and everyone is a target for advertisers based on their data profiles. The sense of one’s privacy and private property diminishes as a result of these technologies.

(2)  Inflated asset values: Incipient asset bubbles across most markets have driven affordability to absurd heights on the back of concerted and global central bank easing. It used to be something of an expectation that one earned and saved money while in their twenties, and got married and bought a house in their thirties. Youth who do not have such expectations are likely to see themselves as tenants for life, driving the sharing economy whilst despising the property owning classes.

(3)  Lack of jobs: it appears that there are now only two types of jobs. The first kind is entrepreneurial, Silicon Valley type jobs with low wages and high equity payoffs in the event that one’s company gets ‘funded’. Then there is the second type of job which offers low wages and no equity upside at all – this would be otherwise referred to as ‘flipping burgers’. All the other jobs, be it in services such as banking or government or manufacturing such as in assembly and production, have simply evaporated from Western societies.

(4)  Student loans: The core issue is that a social ‘contract’ of sorts has been broken – you go to college and end up with a nice job whereas now you go to college and are addled with debt but no job with which to pay it off.

(5)  No prosecution: The lack of prosecutions for bad behaviour at banks, mortgage advisors and investment funds has only helped to create broader appeal for anti-establishment candidates.

Clearly some of these reasons for dissent are legitimate. And herein lies an educational opportunity. Because neither of the anti-establishment candidates have secured a political endorsement from any major public sector union. Nearly all of those unions back Hillary Clinton. And while Sanders, and even Trump, have had some support from private sector unions, it is arguable that if those private unions made endorsements that reflected the sentiments of their members, Sanders and Trump would get them all.

This political season of disaffection presents an opportunity to explain differences between public and private unions that go beyond the obvious ones – that public unions elect their own bosses, that public unions don’t rely on the profitability of a company to get funding, that public unions operate the machinery of government and can use it to intimidate their opponents. The less obvious but more profound difference between public and private unions is that public union power is enhanced when more people are destitute, divided, and dependent on government, and when more activities are criminalized. Private unions have no such perverse incentives.

There’s more.

If you review Chan Akya’s five reasons for America’s disaffected, anti-establishment youth, the worst and most credible have the fingerprints of public union interests all over them. The most glaring example of this are the inflated asset values which have made home ownership almost impossible, especially in California. Using low interest rates to create an “asset economy” is unsustainable. But in the meantime it shores up public employee pension funds, increases property tax revenues to local governments, and of course, wealthy individuals watch their well-hedged portfolios yield excellent returns, while the average American has no chance to earn a decent risk free return on their savings. Who else benefits? Unionized public university faculty, whose pay and benefits skyrocketed on the backs of student loans. As for job creation – once prices for land, utilities and regulatory compliance became too expensive, business who could took their work offshore. But public unions prospered.

If you step back and examine everything the average private sector American worker has to pay for – along with their overpriced homes and exorbitant college tuition – it’s pretty easy to see why politicians like Sanders and Trump are popular. The American taxpayer doesn’t just pay for a bloated, overpaid, inefficient and totally self-interested unionized pubic sector. They pay for global military security, medical and pharmaceutical research and development, and bleeding edge environmental mitigation and clean energy technologies. As a percentage of GDP, no other nation imposes nearly such a burden onto their citizens in these three areas. On top of that, Americans are now being asked to turn their nation into a “multicultural” petri dish, so that internally as well as externally, this country will midwife the emergence of a global civilization. Much of this is inspiring. But it’s a lot to ask.

Millennials in particular, and Americans in general, need to understand that unionized government is the enabling heart and soul of the “establishment” that has let them down, and that an honest search for solutions to the challenges of this age will only begin when government workers get the same deal as the citizens they serve.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the president of the California Policy Center.

RELATED POSTS

The Future of Unions in the Post-Scalia Era, February 16, 2016

In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement, January 19, 2016

The Alliance Between Wall Street and Public Unions, December 1, 2015

When Will Unions Fight to Lower the Cost of Living?, October 27, 2015

Moral Values That Underlie Opposition to Government Unions, October 13, 2015

The Abundance Choice, December 23, 2014

An Economic Win-Win For California – Lower the Cost of Living, December 3, 2014

How Government Unions Are Destroying America, September 22, 2015

The Challenge Libertarians Face to Win American Hearts, October 14, 2014

Reinventing America’s Unions for the 21st Century, September 2, 2014

California’s Green Bantustans, May 21, 2014

A “Left-Right Alliance” Against Public Sector Unions?. May 20, 2014

The Unholy Trinity of Public Sector Unions, Environmentalists, and Wall Street, May 6, 2014

Construction Unions Should Fight for Infrastructure that Helps the Economy, April 1, 2014

Forming a Bipartisan Consensus for Public Sector Union Reform, January 28, 2014

A Policy Agenda for Union Reformers Stuck Inside Unions, November 5, 2013

Why the Democratic Party Cannot Embrace Public Sector Union Reform, October 15, 2013

Exponential Technological Advances and the Role of Unions, July 23, 2013

The Prosperity Agenda, April 2, 2013

Calling for Public Sector Union Reform is Not Anti-Union, January 29, 2013

America’s Atlas Generation – The Forgotten 33%, January 9, 2012

 

Big Labor’s Rollercoaster of Emotions

The unfortunate and untimely passing of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has Big Labor bosses and their liberal political allies cheering. Scalia would have been the decisive vote in a major Supreme Court decision affecting labor unions scheduled for this June (see Why Antonin Scalia was a jurist of colossal consequence). Justice Scalia’s influence would have impacted government union bosses, as he most likely would have voted in favor of union members in Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association. The case involves a California teacher who claims her First Amendment rights have been violated by having to pay union dues, even though she isn’t a member of the union. This matter was further chronicled in a previous blog, Will the Supreme Court undo the damage done to the rights of millions of government workers?

Such a defeat could have been a death spiral for Public Sector Unions. Without a replacement for Scalia, the vote could end up in a tie, considering the Supreme Court is now divided evenly — four liberal justices and four conservative justices. In the event of a tie, the decision of the lower court continues to stand. In this case, the Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the labor unions.

Supreme Court Justice, Antonin Scalia, passed away February 13, 2016

Despite the fact President Obama will push for a quick replacement for Scalia, likely a liberal candidate, which would tilt the Supreme Court to the left, and unions don’t technically even need this appointment, as they are currently in position to Win by Default. This could also be a setback to Christian businesses in America. Without Scalia’s vote, cases involving Religious Beliefs and Christian Values may swing against such businesses due to a likely liberal selection by the President.

Big Labor’s cheering will be somewhat dampened by the news that West Virginia just voted to become the 26th Right-To-Work (RTW) State, effective July 1, 2016. West Virginia makes the fourth state to pass RTW legislation in the last 4 years –along with Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin. It is obvious that the country is moving in a new direction and that there is actually a movement for National RTW Legislation. This recent development, combined with the fact that Democrats may lose the 2016 Presidential Election and continue to be the congressional minority, has the big labor bosses concerned. Undoubtedly, they will be a Major Presence in the 2016 Elections, as they may possibly face extinction if they lose this Election.

I often experience flashbacks of the SEIU attacks made against my company when watching Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders and President Obama speak. They are using the same misguided promises, false information, lies, rhetoric and intimidation tactics the SEIU utilized when attempting to force unionize my employees. It is imperative that a Supreme Court decision is not made in favor of big labor as a result of Scalia’s death.

There is no doubt Scalia’s Death Throws a Wrench in the Bench. However, it is time for Americans from both sides of the aisle to band together, absent political persuasion, to assure that Scalia’s replacement will be one that does not represent progressive ideology, but rather someone who Defends the Constitution of the United States of America and the future of this great country — as Antonin Scalia notably did for so many years.

About the Author: David A. Bego is the President and CEO of EMS, an industry leader in the field of environmental workplace maintenance, employing nearly 5000 workers in thirty-three states. Bego is the author of “The Devil at My Doorstep,” as well as the just released sequel, “The Devil at Our Doorstep,” based on his experiences fighting back against one of the most powerful unions in existence today.

In Search of a Legitimate Labor Movement

Sarah has worked for a major grocery store chain for the past 25 years. Adjusting for inflation, she makes less now than she did over a decade ago, especially since her hours were cut in order for her employer to avoid being required to offer her health insurance. Even more difficult, she is “on call” most of the week, without a reliable schedule, which makes it impossible for her to take on a 2nd part time job to help make ends meet. Including benefits, Sarah is lucky to make $30,000 per year. Now in her early fifties, she will need to work for as long as there is strength left in her body to do the job.

George works for a fire department serving an affluent suburb on the California coast. Taking into account the vacation time he earns as a 25 year veteran, he works less than two 24 hour shifts per week before qualifying for overtime. Since five day weekends are overkill, he often works one or two extra shifts a week, doubling his pay. When he goes on calls, 98% of the time they are medical emergencies, not fires. Including moderate amounts of overtime and the employer’s payments for his benefits, George makes about $250,000 per year. Now in his early fifties, he will retire in a year or two and collect a pension and health benefits package worth well over $100,000 per year.

Both of these individuals are hard working, honest and conscientious. Both of them perform jobs that have a vital role to play in our society. Both of them deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Neither of them wrote the rules. And both of them are represented by unions.

While these individuals and the work they do is beyond reproach, the unions that represent them leave much to be desired. In Sarah’s case, typical of tens of millions of private sector workers, the unions who represent her have ignored economic reality in pursuit of ideological fantasies. Almost universally, to cite a particularly wounding example, these private sector unions have supported immigration policies that increase the supply of semi-skilled workers who compete with Sarah for work hours. Also common are the pragmatic alliances these unions form with extreme environmentalist organizations who have bottled up development of land and energy, driving the cost of living beyond the reach of an ordinary worker. One may cogitate endlessly over what constitutes optimal and humane policies with respect to immigration and the environment. But to agitate for higher wages and benefits in a society awash in cheap labor and artificially inflated costs for basic necessities is a fool’s errand.

In George’s case, which is equally typical, at least in California, the unions that represent him should not even be permitted to exist. Associations of government workers who engage in collective bargaining are not unions in any traditional sense of the word. They elect their own bosses, they take money from taxpayers instead of competing for consumer spending, and they operate the machinery of government which lets them intimidate or co-opt any special interest that might oppose them. They have priced normal government services beyond the capacity of ordinary taxpayers, and bred cynicism about government into the heart of any financially literate American. And government unions have even less interest than private unions in acknowledging the complexity of issues such as immigration or environmentalist overreach. In both cases, policies that harm the aspirations of private workers have the opposite effect on them, enhancing their job security.

A legitimate labor movement is easy to justify in the abstract. If not unions, what sort of movement will speak for ordinary workers in an era when jobs are being relentlessly automated, global competition is tougher than ever, and the cost of living is punitive? What sort of movement can speak for ordinary workers if, along with these challenges, the nation is gripped by a deep recession brought on because interest rates can’t go any lower and stimulative debt can’t go any higher?

The reality today is that much of America’s labor movement has gone astray. Private sector unions often put ideological goals ahead of the economic interests of their members. And public sector unions, which are not unions in any traditional sense of the word, and which represent the economic interests of their members all too well, are an abomination. They have corrupted our democracy, they are a corrupting influence on government workers because they have exempted them from the economic challenges facing private American workers, they are driving our governments at all levels towards authoritarianism, they are bankrupting our cities and counties and states, and the pension funds they control epitomize the most corrupt elements of America’s grotesquely overbuilt financial sector. Maybe what would remain after abolition, still very powerful voluntary associations, could start fighting for CEQA reform, for example, to benefit all workers instead of just themselves. Before unions infested our governments, that’s what public service meant.

Envisioning exactly how the labor movement might best operate in the interests of the American worker is difficult but necessary. It requires balancing libertarian and mixed-capitalist economic world views. But two reforms would be a very good start. First, outlaw collective bargaining in the public sector. Second, the leaders of the private sector labor movement need to starting caring more about American workers, and less about their elitist ideological fantasies.

 *  *  *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Moral Values That Underlie Opposition to Government Unions

Often missing from entirely legitimate criticism of government unions is an accompanying explanation of the moral values that underlie the criticism. Last month we published a post entitled “Deceptive and Misleading Claims – How Government Unions Fool the Public,” which listed ten myths that government unions use repeatedly in their propaganda campaigns. Missing in that post, and added here, are the moral values that underlie the need to expose each of these myths.

TEN GOVERNMENT UNION MYTHS AND THE MORAL ARGUMENTS AGAINST THEM

Myth #1:  Government unions are protecting the middle class.

Reality:  Government unions are protecting government workers at the expense of the private sector middle class. The agenda of government unions is more wages and benefits for government workers, and more hiring of government workers. To adhere to this agenda, failure of government programs still constitutes success for these unions. More laws, more regulations, and more government programs equates to more unionized government workers, regardless of the cost, benefit, or need for these programs. The primary agenda of unionized government has nothing to do with the welfare of the private sector middle class, whose taxes pay for it.

Moral value:
The dignity and security of ALL workers is important, not just government workers.

Myth #2:  Government unions are a necessary political counterweight to “Wall Street,” big business, and billionaires.

Reality:  When government is expanded to serve the interests of government unions, the elite and privileged special interests are relatively unaffected, and often benefit. Large corporations can afford to comply with excessive regulations that drive their emerging competitors out of business. When governments borrow to finance deficits created by an over-built unionized government, bond underwriters profit from the fees. Government pension funds are among the biggest players on Wall Street, aggressively investing hundreds of billions each year to secure their 7.0% (or more) per year returns. Billionaires can afford to pay taxes and fees – it’s the middle class taxpayer who can be overwhelmed by them. When powerful special interests want favorable legislation passed in California, they go to the government unions and make a deal. Government unions are the brokers and enablers of special interest cronyism. They are allies, not counterweights.

Moral value:
As government contractors and as representatives of public servants, financial special interests and their government union partners should care about ALL citizens, not just themselves.

Myth #3:  Government unions represent and protect the American worker and the labor movement.

Reality:  For better or worse, government unions represent and protect government workers. Government unions and private sector unions have very little in common. Unlike private unions, government unions elect their own bosses, and their agencies are funded by compulsory taxes, not through profits earned by creating products and services that are voluntarily purchased in a competitive market. Moreover, government union members operate the machinery of government, giving them the ability to harass their political opponents under cover of authority. Private sector unions – properly regulated – have a legitimate role to play in American society. Government unions, on the other hand, exist to serve the interests of government workers, not the ordinary American citizen.

Moral value:
Democratic government represents and serves ALL Americans, not just government workers.

Myth #4:  Public employees are underpaid.

Reality: In past decades, prior to the unionization of government, a public worker exchanged lower base pay for better retirement benefits and more job security. But today, not only have retirement benefits been greatly increased from what was normal back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but in most cases the base pay of government workers exceeds the base pay for private sector workers performing jobs requiring similar skills. A 2015 study by State Budget Solutions estimated the total compensation of California’s government workers to exceed private sector workers by 31%. But these studies typically omit lower paid independent contractors who now constitute one in three workers. A California Policy Center study that examined 2012 data showed the average pay and benefits for California’s city workers was $124,058, county workers $102,312, and state workers $100,668. And this study did not take into account the value of additional paid vacation benefits, extra paid holidays, and generous “comp time” policies, which add significantly to the total value of annual compensation. Just how much public employee pay exceeds private sector pay for equivalent jobs is the topic of ongoing debate. But they’re not underpaid by any reasonable measure.

Moral value:
Taxpayer funded government benefits – whether they are generous or minimal – should extend to ALL workers according to the same set of formulas and incentives.

Moral value:
Public service should not automatically bestow better pay, more job security, and superior benefits compared to private sector workers.

Myth #5:  The average public sector pension is only $25,000 per year (or some similarly low number).

Reality:  The problem with this profoundly misleading statistic is that this low average is the result of including participants who only worked a few years in state/local government, barely vesting a pension. Should someone who worked less than a decade (or two) in a job expect a pension based on a full career of service? When normalizing for 30 year careers and taking into account the uptick in retirement benefit formulas that rolled through California starting in 1999, the average state/local retiree in California collects a pension and retirement health benefit package worth over $70,000 per year. For a private sector taxpayer to collect this much in retirement, they would have to save at least $1.5 million.

Moral value:
We support modest, financially sustainable retirement security benefits for ALL American workers, not just government workers.

Myth #6:  California’s state/local pension systems are being reformed and will be just fine financially.

Reality: Virtually every official post-reform projection among California’s 80+ public sector pension systems are predicting eventual financial health based on a huge, extremely risky assumption – that the average annual returns of these funds over the next few decades will exceed 7.0% per year. Common sense should tell any unbiased observer that ongoing 7.0% average annual returns are not a safe bet. If they are, why are Treasury Bills only yielding 3.0%? What are mortgage bankers only able to get 3.5% on 30 year fixed mortgages? Why are bank CD’s only offering 2.0%? The spread between equity returns and truly risk-free returns has never been this large for this long. Pension funds are basing future performance projections on past results. The problem is that over the past 30 years, interest rates have been steadily lowered to allow people to borrow more. This borrowing stimulated the economy, creating corporate profits and driving up the price of corporate equities. But interest rates cannot be lowered any further. We are at the end of a long-term credit cycle, and pension funds are just beginning to deal with the consequences.

Moral value:
Government worker retirement funds should be managed cautiously and responsibly, not gambled on Wall Street with taxpayers liable if returns don’t meet unrealistic expectations.

Myth #7:  The teachers unions care about student achievement more than anything else.

Reality: The evidence simply doesn’t support this assertion. Consider the reaction of the California Teachers Association to the recent Vergara decision, in which a Los Angeles superior court judge agreed with student plaintiffs who challenged three union work rules. The CTA criticized the ruling and announced their support for an appeal. What does the Vergara lawsuit aim to accomplish? It would take away the ability for teachers to earn tenure in less than two years. It would end the practice of favoring seniority over merit when deciding what teachers to layoff. And it would make it easier to fire incompetent teachers. These are commonsense, bipartisan reforms that the teachers unions oppose.

Moral value:
Good educations for our children matter more than job security for bad teachers.

Myth #8:  Billionaires are trying to hijack California’s public education system.

Reality:  Wealthy individuals come from a diverse background of political orientations. All of them share a desire to rescue California’s next generation of citizens from a union monopoly on education. And unlike the unionized traditional public school, public charter schools and private schools survive based on the choice of parents who want a better education for their children. And if they don’t do a great job, the parents can withdraw their children from the failing charter or private school. Introducing competition to California’s unionized K-12 education system is a healthy, hopeful trend that gathers support from concerned citizens of all incomes, ethnic groups, and political ideologies.

Moral value:
What matters is the character and intentions of philanthropists and investors, not whether their ideology is right-wing or left-wing.

Myth #9:  Proponents of public sector union reform are “anti-government workers.”

Reality: This sort of claim is a distraction from the reality – which is that public sector unions have corrupted the democratic process and have been attempting to inculcate public employees with the “us vs. them” mentality that is the currency of unions. Sadly, the opposite is the truth – government unions alienate the public from their government, and, worse, alienate government employees from the public. They have created two classes of workers, government employees who have superior pay, benefits, job security and retirement security, and everyone else in the private sector. They know perfectly well that this level of worker comfort is economically impossible to extend to everyone. Government unions have undermined the sense of common rules and shared fate between public and private individuals that is a foundation of democracy. Those who oppose government unions recognize this threat. It has nothing to do with their support and respect for the men and women who perform the many difficult and risky jobs that are the role of government.

Moral value:
All American citizens should live according to the SAME government laws, rules, incentives.

Myth #10:  Opponents of government unions are “right wing extremists.”

Reality: The problems caused by government unions should concern everyone, and they do. Conscientious left-wing activists who favor an expanded role for government expect positive results, not failed programs that were created merely to increase union membership. They realize that unionized government is expensive and inefficient, leaving less money or authority to maintain or expand government services. Public libraries and parks with reduced hours and curtailed maintenance. Pitted, congested roads. After school recreation programs without reliable funding. Public schools where students aren’t learning and apathetic teachers are protected from accountability. Government has to be cost-effective, no matter how big or how small. Opponents of government unions can disagree on the optimal size of government, yet passionately agree on the problems caused by a unionized government.

Moral value:
Good government is something EVERYONE believes in, whether they are right-wing or left-wing.

This list of ten myths promulgated by spokespersons for government unions only begins to chronicle their many deceptions. But each of these myths offer strategic value to these unions – giving them the ability to put reformers on the defensive, change the topic of discussion, redefine the terms of the debate. Each of them has powerful emotional resonance, and each of them – along with many others – is continuously reinforced by a network of professional communicators backed by literally billions in dues revenue. But they are myths, not facts, and equally if not more important, they rely on premises of questionable moral worth.

Although intellectual integrity and emotional resonance are important and necessary elements of any effective argument critical of government unions, it is the moral worth of those arguments that matters above all. When you consider these myths – which is a charitable way to describe these distortions, deceptions, and misleading claims – in the context of the moral arguments that impel critics to refute them, what emerges is a new and decisive approach to countering union propaganda. Because government unions are destroying our democracy, our freedom and our prosperity, merely to enrich themselves. The moral high ground belongs to their critics, not to the government unions.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

How Government Unions Are Destroying America

Not one presidential candidate, apart from Gov. Walker’s last-ditch rhetoric prior to dropping out, has discussed the problems with unionized government as a major issue. That’s too bad, because these problems are bigger than even most critics acknowledge.

When people discuss the need to reform, if not eliminate, public sector unions, the only reason typically cited is that their demands are bankrupting our cities and states. And reformers also usually fail to communicate the fundamental differences between government unions and private sector unions, or emphasize the bipartisan urgency of public sector union reform. Government unions don’t merely drive our cities and counties into service insolvency if not bankruptcy, they are distorting policy decisions of fundamental importance to the future of America.

With a focus on California, and in no particular order, here is an attempt to summarize how this is occurring:

(1) The Economy

California has the highest taxes and fees in the U.S., and is consistently ranked as the worst state in America to do business. California also has the highest paid public employees in the United States, and with state and local debt and unfunded retirement obligations now hovering around $1.0 trillion – nearly half of the state’s entire GDP – virtually all new state and local taxes and fees are to pay for services that have already been performed. The uncontrollable political power of state and local government unions, combined with their insatiable appetite for more pay, more benefits, and more members, has – across all areas of policy – shifted political priorities from the public interest to the interests of public employees. The primary reason for excessive taxes and fees, as well as fewer services and less infrastructure investment, is because California’s unionized state and local government workers receive pay and benefits that are twice what the average private citizen earns.

(2) Cronyism and Financial Special Interests

When government unions control the government, big business either gets out of the way or gets on board. The idea that government unions protect the public interest against big corporate interests is absurd. Government union backed policies create deficits that bond issuers earn billions underwriting. Excessive pension benefits create additional hundreds of billions in pension fund assets invested on Wall Street. Excessive regulations are enforced by additional unionized government employees, to which only the biggest corporations can afford to comply. Government unions enable and enrich the largest corporate and financial interests at the expense of small independent businesses and emerging competitors.

(3) Environment

When it comes to cronyism, the “clean-tech” sector has risen to the top of the list. Government unions are partnering with “green” venture capitalists to carve up the proceeds of California’s carbon emission auction proceeds, a tax by any other name that will eventually extract tens of billions each year from California’s consumers to fund investments that wouldn’t make it in a normal market. From high speed rail to side loading washers that tear up fabric, strain backs, and require expensive maintenance, “green” projects and products are being forced on Californians in order to enrich investors and corporations. But it doesn’t end there. A bad fire season isn’t because of normal drought recurrence, no, the cause is “man made climate-change,” so fire crews have a claim on CO2 emissions auction proceeds. A heat wave isn’t a heat wave, it’s global warming – and since crime is statistically known to increase during hot weather, police agencies also have a claim on CO2 emissions auction proceeds. Code inspectors and planners? Climate change mitigation via enforcing “additional” energy efficiency mandates and higher housing density. Transit workers whose conveyances replace cars? Ditto. Teachers who insert climate change indoctrination into curricula? Ditto.

An entire article, or book for that matter, could be written on the synergistic symbiosis between environmental extremists, big business/finance, and government unions. What about the artificial scarcity environmentalism creates by restricting development of land, energy, water, and other natural resources? When this happens, the wealthiest corporations and developers make higher profits while their smaller competitors go out of business. Utilities, whose margins are fixed, raise revenues which increases their absolute profits. Union controlled government pension funds, whose entire solvency depends on asset bubbles, ride investments in these artificially scarce commodities to new heights. Property tax revenues rise because home prices are artificially inflated.

(4) Infrastructure

California’s deferred maintenance on existing infrastructure – roads, bridges, rail, port facilities, utility grid, dams and aqueducts – has been assessed in the hundreds of billions. New infrastructure to solve, for example, water scarcity, would include toilet-to-tap sewage reuse, desalination, enhanced runoff capture, and – dare we say it – a few new dams. But none of these projects get off the ground, not only because environmentalists oppose them based on mostly misguided principles, but because artificial scarcity enriches established special interests, and because all the public funds that can possibly be found are instead perpetually needed to pay unionized government workers. More pay. More benefits. More government workers. Infrastructure? It’s environmentally harmful.

(5) Immigration

No matter where one stands on this sensitive and complex issue, they must recognize that government unions win when immigrants fail to prosper or assimilate. While American culture retains a vitality that is almost irresistible to newcomers and may overcome all attempts to undermine and fragment it, if government unions had their way, that’s exactly what would happen. Because the more difficulties new immigrants encounter, the more government workers are required. If immigrants fail to find jobs, if they become alienated and traumatized, if they turn to crime or even terrorism, then we need more welfare and social workers, we need more multilingual teachers and bureaucrats, we need more police, and we need more prisons. The unpleasant truth is this: If we import millions of destitute immigrants into America – people with marginal skills from cultures that are hostile to American values – it is a meal ticket worth billions of dollars for government unions, and for every crony business who services the programs they administer.

(6) Authoritarianism

By over-regulating all activity that so much as scratches the earth, whether it’s to develop land, water, energy, minerals; to farm, transport, build, manufacture; to enforce these rules, more government powers are required. Similarly, by upending the cultural fabric that’s nurtured a social contract in America so strong that volumes of law never had to be written, but were instead the stuff of mutually understood courtesies and customs, we invite strife. To manage this, more rules and referees are necessary, enforced by more government. As society loses its cohesion, and as ordinary honest citizens rebel against excessive taxes and regulations, government unions benefit from training their members to mistrust the fractious and rebellious public. After all, unionized government workers are now a special class. As society fragments, they become more cohesive. As the middle class dissolves, they retain their economic privileges. Perhaps more than any other factor, government unions impel the growth of a police state.

(7) Education

To consider education is to save the most important for last. Because everything that is wrong with where our culture is headed can either be magnified or mitigated by how we educate our young students, regardless of their income or gender or culture or faith. As it is, in California’s public schools, students are taught that open space is sacred, that energy development will destroy the planet, that capitalism is innately flawed if not irredeemable, and that the legacy of Western European culture is a primary cause for most problems in the world. Instead of teaching children to develop functional skills in reading and math, they are being indoctrinated to believe that any failure or disappointment they ever encounter is the result of discrimination. Given the demographics of California’s youth, the union fostered educational environment currently imposed on them is nothing short of a catastrophe.

The reader may not agree with all seven of these assessments, but regardless of the scope of anyone’s reform advocacy, they must confront government unions. Because reform in all of these areas is stopped by government unions. Do you want to unleash California’s economic potential? Do you want to reduce the power of the financial special interests and crony capitalists? Do you want to restore balance to environmental policies, and build revenue producing infrastructure that eliminates scarcity and lowers the cost of living for ordinary people? Do you want to stop importing welfare recipients and instead admit highly skilled and highly educated workers who will enliven our economy and our culture with spectacular success? Do you want to avoid living in a police state? Do you want California’s children to be taught lessons that build their character and give them useful skills?

Reformers must recognize that government unions have a natural interest in preventing any of these reforms from ever happening. Addressing any of these issues without also taking on the government unions is futile. Conscientious members of government unions can play a vital role in reforms, by the way, if they are willing to make their personal interests secondary to their duties as a public servant. If California can be rescued from the grip of government unions, eventually everyone will benefit. And as goes California, so goes the nation.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Deceptive and Misleading Claims – How Government Unions Fool the Public

California’s public sector unions collect and spend well over $1.0 billion per year. When you have that much money, you can hire thousands of skilled professionals to wage campaigns, litigate, lobby, negotiate, and communicate. You can hire the best public relations firms money can buy. You can commission research studies that spin facts to support your agenda. You can silence voices of dissent, voices of reason, voices of reform, with an avalanche of misinformation. And it works.

Here, then, for what it’s worth, is a list of some of the biggest deceptions and misleading claims made by California’s government unions.

1 – Government unions are protecting the middle class.

FALSE. Government unions are protecting government workers at the expense of the private sector middle class. The agenda of government unions is more wages and benefits for government workers, and more hiring of government workers. To adhere to this agenda, failure of government programs still constitutes success for these unions. More laws, more regulations, and more government programs equates to more unionized government workers, regardless of the cost, benefit, or need for these programs. The primary agenda of unionized government has nothing to do with the welfare of the private sector middle class, whose taxes pay for it.

2 – Government unions are a necessary political counterweight to “Wall Street,” big business, and billionaires.

FALSE. When government is expanded to serve the interests of government unions, the elite and privileged special interests are relatively unaffected, and often benefit. Large corporations can afford to comply with excessive regulations that drive their emerging competitors out of business. When governments borrow to finance deficits created by an over-built unionized government, bond underwriters profit from the fees. Government pension funds are among the biggest players on Wall Street, aggressively investing hundreds of billions each year to secure their 7.0% (or more) per year returns. Billionaires can afford to pay taxes and fees – it’s the middle class taxpayer who can be overwhelmed by them. When powerful special interests want favorable legislation passed in California, they go to the government unions and make a deal. Government unions are the brokers and enablers of special interest cronyism. They are allies, not counterweights.

3 – Government unions represent and protect the American worker and the labor movement.

FALSE. For better or worse, government unions represent and protect government workers. Government unions and private sector unions have very little in common. Unlike private unions, government unions elect their own bosses, and their agencies are funded by compulsory taxes, not through profits earned by creating products and services that are voluntarily purchased in a competitive market. Moreover, government union members operate the machinery of government, giving them the ability to harass their political opponents under cover of authority. Private sector unions – properly regulated – have a legitimate role to play in American society. Government unions, on the other hand, exist to serve the interests of government workers, not the ordinary American citizen.

4 – Public employees are underpaid.

FALSE. In past decades, prior to the unionization of government, a public worker exchanged lower base pay for better retirement benefits and more job security. But today, not only have retirement benefits been greatly increased from what was normal back in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but in most cases the base pay of government workers exceeds the base pay for private sector workers performing jobs requiring similar skills. A 2015 study by State Budget Solutions estimated the total compensation of California’s government workers to exceed private sector workers by 31%. But these studies typically omit lower paid independent contractors who now constitute one in three workers. A California Policy Center study that examined 2012 data showed the average pay and benefits for California’s city workers was $124,058, county workers $102,312, and state workers $100,668. And this study did not take into account the value of additional paid vacation benefits, extra paid holidays, and generous “comp time” policies, which add significantly to the total value of annual compensation. Just how much public employee pay exceeds private sector pay for equivalent jobs is the topic of ongoing debate. But they’re not underpaid by any reasonable measure.

5 – The average public sector pension is only $25,000 per year (or some similarly low number).

FALSE. The problem with this profoundly misleading statistic is that this low average is the result of including participants who only worked a few years in state/local government, barely vesting a pension. Should someone who worked less than a decade (or two) in a job expect a pension based on a full career of service? When normalizing for 30 year careers and taking into account the uptick in retirement benefit formulas that rolled through California starting in 1999, the average state/local retiree in California collects a pension and retirement health benefit package worth over $70,000 per year. For a private sector taxpayer to collect this much in retirement, they would have to save at least $1.5 million. If public pensions weren’t so generous, these pension systems would not face severe financial challenges. Which brings us to the next myth….

6 – California’s state/local pension systems are being reformed and will be just fine financially.

FALSE. Virtually every official post-reform projection among California’s 80+ public sector pension systems are predicting eventual financial health based on a huge, extremely risky assumption – that the average annual returns of these funds over the next few decades will exceed 7.0% per year. Common sense should tell any unbiased observer that ongoing 7.0% average annual returns are not a safe bet. If they are, why are Treasury Bills only yielding 3.0%? What are mortgage bankers only able to get 3.5% on 30 year fixed mortgages? Why are bank CD’s only offering 2.0%? The spread between equity returns and truly risk-free returns has never been this large for this long. Pension funds are basing future performance projections on past results. The problem is that over the past 30 years, interest rates have been steadily lowered to allow people to borrow more. This borrowing stimulated the economy, creating corporate profits and driving up the price of corporate equities. But interest rates cannot be lowered any further. We are at the end of a long-term credit cycle, and pension funds are just beginning to deal with the consequences.

7 – The teachers unions care about student achievement more than anything else.

FALSE. The evidence simply doesn’t support this assertion. Consider the reaction of the California Teachers Association to the recent Vergara decision, in which a Los Angeles superior court judge agreed with student plaintiffs who challenged three union work rules. The CTA criticized the ruling and announced their support for an appeal. What does the Vergara lawsuit aim to accomplish? It would take away the ability for teachers to earn tenure in less than two years. It would end the practice of favoring seniority over merit when deciding what teachers to layoff. And it would make it easier to fire incompetent teachers. These are commonsense, bipartisan reforms that the teachers unions oppose.

8 – Billionaires are trying to hijack California’s public education system.

FALSE. To the extent wealthy individuals have decided to involve themselves in education reform and private education initiatives, they come from a diverse background of political orientations. But all of them share a desire to rescue California’s next generation of citizens from a union monopoly on education. And unlike the unionized traditional public school, public charter schools and private schools survive based on the choice of parents who want a better education for their children. And if they don’t do a great job, the parents can withdraw their children from the failing charter or private school. Introducing competition to California’s unionized K-12 education system is a healthy, hopeful trend that gathers support from concerned citizens of all incomes, ethnic groups, and political ideologies.

9 – Proponents of public sector union reform are “anti-government workers.”

FALSE. This sort of claim is a distraction from the reality – which is that public sector unions have corrupted the democratic process and have been attempting to inculcate public employees with the “us vs. them” mentality that is the currency of unions. Sadly, the opposite is the truth – government unions alienate the public from their government, and, worse, alienate government employees from the public. They have created two classes of workers, government employees who have superior pay, benefits, job security and retirement security, and everyone else in the private sector. They know perfectly well that this level of worker comfort is economically impossible to extend to everyone. Government unions have undermined the sense of common rules and shared fate between public and private individuals that is a foundation of democracy. Those who oppose government unions recognize this threat. It has nothing to do with their support and respect for the men and women who perform the many difficult and risky jobs that are the role of government.

10 – Opponents of government unions are “right wing extremists.”

FALSE. The problems caused by government unions should concern everyone, and they do. Conscientious left-wing activists who favor an expanded role for government expect positive results, not failed programs that were created merely to increase union membership. They realize that unionized government is expensive and inefficient, leaving less money or authority to maintain or expand government services. Public libraries and parks with reduced hours and curtailed maintenance. Pitted, congested roads. After school recreation programs without reliable funding. Public schools where students aren’t learning and apathetic teachers are protected from accountability. Government has to be cost-effective, no matter how big or how small. Opponents of government unions can disagree on the optimal size of government, yet passionately agree on the problems caused by a unionized government.

This list of ten myths promulgated by spokespersons for government unions only begins to chronicle their many deceptions. But each of these myths offer strategic value to these unions – giving them the ability to put reformers on the defensive, change the topic of discussion, redefine the terms of the debate. Each of them has powerful emotional resonance, and each of them – along with many others – is continuously reinforced by a network of professional communicators backed by literally billions in dues revenue.

Compensation reform, pension reform, other fiscal reforms, reforming work rules, education reform – all these urgent reforms must first go through one powerful special interest that stops them in their tracks: Government unions. Reformers must confront not only the myths these unions promote, challenging and debunking them, but they must also redefine the role of government unions, if not question their very existence.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Caltrans Union Spokesman Understates Engineers' Cost by $71M

In a hearing on Senator Moorlach’s SBX1-9 (Responsible Contacting for Caltrans) bill, Ted Toppin of the Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) made a series of demonstrably false claims regarding the cost of Caltrans engineers.

Toppin claimed that the cost of a fully-loaded engineer – including all wages, benefits and even the cost of their office and service truck – was $116,000. A review of the department’s 2014 payroll data reveals that the average cost for a “transportation engineer” was $128,638. This is only for regular transportation engineers and excludes any engineer with a preface such as senior, supervising, principal, etc. Additionally, it understates their total cost as it does not include the cost of their trucks and office space.

In 2014, Caltrans had 5646 full-time regular transportation engineers on their payroll. Consequently, Toppin understates the cost of employing engineers by at least $71,000,000 per year for the department.

The highest compensated regular transportation engineer received $213,000, with principal transportation engineer, Kenneth Terpstra, leading all classifications of engineers with $243,000 in total compensation.

Later, Toppin is incredulous at the notion that a state engineer could make $138,000 a year, stating that, “There is no state engineer in this state, making $138,000 a year…I think it probably tops out for top engineers at around $110,000.”

Here it is clear Toppin is speaking about all categories of engineers, not merely the regular transportation engineers analyzed above. It is also likely he is referring to wages only, not total compensation. To be even more charitable, we will also assume he is referring to “regular pay” only, and in addition to excluding benefits, will also exclude any overtime earnings or supplemental wages classified as “other pay.”

Given the above, how does his claim contrast against the 2014 payroll data?

Six engineers received regular pay in excess of $138,000 last year and 1581, or nearly 20% of all engineers, received over $110,000. If we include total wages, those numbers rise to 69 and 2101, respectively.

Finally, Toppin expressed regret that the director of the department makes only $169,000 or so. He might be pleased to know that thanks to the incomparably generous leave policies offered by California’s public sector, the director was able to cash in roughly $80,000 worth of unused leave to boost his 2014 pay to $247,000, for a total compensation package of $302,000.

Mr. Toppin’s inaccurate testimony before the Senate committee fits a pattern best epitomized by the Legislative Analyst’s Office: “the overarching numbers given by Caltrans are not supported by data.”

Given the poor grasp on matters as straightforward as personnel costs, it is little wonder there exists deep skepticism about whether Caltrans is providing taxpayers with the best value possible for their tax dollars.

Robert Fellner is the Director of Transparency Research at the California Policy Center.

What Happens When Public Unions Control Everything for Decades?

Editor’s Note:  California and Illinois have a lot in common. Both have diverse, resilient economies, both are large states with most of the population concentrated in urban areas, and both have been controlled for decades by public sector unions. The crucial difference, of course, is that at least in Illinois, there is a reform minded governor who is standing up to the unions. But will it matter? In this article by Mike Shedlock, including commentary by Michael Bargo, it is clear that the depth of government union power in Illinois will be hard to overcome, even by a charismatic governor who is committed to reform. One of the most noteworthy quotes in this article comes from Bargo, who contends that literally 100% of the property tax proceeds paid by residents of Chicago are required to make pension payments. One analyst estimated the total per capita state and local debt for a Chicago resident at $88,000. But this debt wasn’t incurred to “help the working class and poor.” It is primarily to pay for pensions. California’s teetering pension systems are one market downturn away from facing a situation just as dire as Illinois. The hypocrisy of the government union controlled politicians in Illinois, and California, is only matched by their unwarranted power.

Here is my post from two weeks ago, Emanuel Fiddles While Chicago Burns; Public Schools Over the Edge; 9% Cloud Tax on Data Streaming; Emanuel Eyes Property Tax Hikes. discussing the sorry state of affairs in Chicago.

Michael Bargo, writer for the American Thinker, provides additional commentary on this topic.

Here is a  lengthy snip from Bargo’s recent, well-written article Public Pensions Prove Zero Sum Economics.

One of the major appeals in Democrat presidential campaigns  is to explain to voters that they need Democrats in office to take money away from the rich. And since the rich own big corporations, they will pay workers as little as possible. This idea is what Barack Obama had in mind in 2008 when he said he will redistribute money to the working class and poor.

But so far this analysis has only been applied to the private sector; the “rich” who own stocks or run corporations. If public sector workers, particularly pensioners who are not working, are taking significant amounts of money from taxpayers, then this may also be seen  as contributing to the shrinkage of middle class incomes.

Of course, Illinois is not the only state dominated by high Democrat taxes and public sector spending but it serves as a good case study of what Democrats do when they have total control of budgets for decades.

The results are startling. Today, Chicago’s public sector unions are underfunded, according to the City itself, by $26.8 billion. This is just the City of Chicago. When the state debt is added, the total amount of debt owed by each Chicago household to the city and state rise, according to the Illinois Policy Institute, to $61,000. SEC Commissioner Gallagher stated the number is $88,000.

Pension payments to Chicago public union employees have become so high that today all the property taxes paid by the households of Chicago go exclusively to pensions. The operating expenses are paid by additional taxes on things from packs of cigarettes, to gasoline, sales tax, and cable TV bills. Given these facts about how Chicago’s property taxes are used, it’s not surprising that its new Republican governor wants to freeze property taxes to rescue the middle class’s paychecks from Democrats.

Illinois Democrats have indentured the taxpayers of the state to turn over historic amounts of their incomes to government, shrinking Illinois’ middle class.

All public debt creates taxation and the effects have an impact, sooner or later. The more time allowed for debts to go unpaid, the greater the amount of taxes eventually wasted on interest payments.

Chicago is now the slowest growing of all major cities. In 2014 Chicago only gained 82 people in population. Residents are fleeing Illinois, taking their purchasing power with them. Illinois is also the slowest state to recover from the recession.

Chicago households will have to pay, through taxes, muni bond and unfunded pension debt for decades to come. Far into their lifetimes, and the lifetimes of their children. Zero sum theory is true, but the lion’s share of the proof shows that government spending, not private sector investing, takes money from average Americans.

Zero sum theory has been used by Democrats as nothing but a rhetorical tool used to exploit voters’ emotions of envy and greed. But in the end, the greed is exercised by Democrats while taxpayers in Illinois find themselves deep into a hole of government-created debt.

The private Illinois Policy Institute has uncovered most of the facts used here, and often had to file FOIA requests. In some cases, they had to take state agencies to Federal court to find out how much they were earning, and how much debt they had accumulated. This is all planned, it is a strategy used by Democrats to con taxpayers into putting them into office; saying they want small class size and to help the elderly; while all along they were secretly passing huge public pension contracts and dumping the cost onto average middle class and poor taxpayers.

These facts show two things. One is that these payments are so high that all Chicago households are under a crushing debt burden that takes many thousands per year away from their household budgets. And secondly, these figures provide an opportunity to measure whether this transfer of wealth from households to public pensioners negatively impacts economic grow. Illinois has the most public debt, the lowest credit rating, and the slowest growth.

Who Really Runs Illinois?

Little or no legislation passes through the Illinois legislature without the approval of Michael Madigan.

Wikipedia notes Madigan has been a House member since 1971, and Speaker in all but two years since 1983.

Chicago Magazine named Madigan the fourth-most-powerful Chicagoan in 2012 and second in 2013 and 2014, calling him “the Velvet Hammer—a.k.a. the Real Governor of Illinois.

Rich Miller, editor of the Capitol Fax Illinois political newsletter, wrote “the pile of political corpses outside Madigan’s Statehouse door of those who tried to beat him one way or another is a mile high and a mile wide.

Taxes Not the Answer

The results of Madigan’s tenure as the long-serving “real governor” of Illinois are as follows:

  • Pension holes in the hundreds of billions of dollars
  • Budget deficits
  • Corruption
  • Business exodus
  • Private taxpayer exodus
  • High taxes
  • Shrinking middle class

Tax hikes are clearly not the answer. Illinois has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Unfortunately for Illinoisans, other than kowtowing to public union demands, raising taxes is about the only thing Madigan knows how to do.

The results of Madigan’s tenure speak for themselves.
Isn’t it time to try a new tack?

Here’s Where to Start 

  1. Bankruptcy legislation to allow municipal bankruptcies
  2. Pass Right-to-Work legislation
  3. Scrap prevailing wage laws
  4. Property tax freeze
  5. Freeze defined benefit pension plans
  6. Pension reform
  7. Fair redistricting
  8. Reform worker’s compensation laws

That’s a big list of things that needs to be done, and Madigan is on the other side of every one of them.

As I said at the top,  Emanuel Fiddles While Chicago Burns.

And at the state level, Madigan Fiddles While Illinois Burns.

About the Author:  Mike Shedlock is the editor of the top-rated global economics blog Mish’s Global Economic Trend Analysis, offering insightful commentary every day of the week. He is also a contributing “professor” on Minyanville, a community site focused on economic and financial education, and a senior fellow with the Illinois Policy Institute.

Libertarians, Government Unions, and Infrastructure Development

“Alright, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
–  John Cleese, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, 1979

Any discussion of California’s neglected infrastructure has to recognize the three factors most responsible, libertarians, environmentalists, and government unions. Picking libertarians as the first example is not by accident, because libertarians are perhaps the most unwitting participants in the squelching of public infrastructure investment. By resisting government involvement in any massive public works project, libertarians provide cover to public sector unions who know that public works funding competes for tax revenues with their own pay and benefits.

When it comes to squelching public infrastructure investment, however, nobody can compete with California’s environmentalist lobby. Their lawsuits have stalled infrastructure development for decades. And the identity of interests between government unions and environmentalists is multi-faceted. The most obvious is that when there is no money for infrastructure there is more money for government worker pay and benefits. And of course, the more environmentalist regulations are passed, the more need to hire more unionized government workers.

Then there are the unintended and largely unnoticed financial consequences of environmentalism abetting the government union agenda. As California’s carbon emission auction collections slowly grow into billions per year, government jobs are redefined to incorporate “climate change mitigation.” Code inspectors and planning dept. personnel become climate change enforcers ala revised building codes and zoning laws. Bus drivers become mass transit workers mitigating climate change. Firefighters combat lengthier fire seasons, and even police are called into action because hotter weather is correlated to higher crime rates. And as they work to mitigate the impact of climate change, all of them quietly qualify for a share of the carbon emission auction proceeds.

The unintended economic consequences of environmentalism abetting the government union agenda are among the hardest to explain. Of course environmentalism can slow down economic growth. At some reasonable level – which we’re well beyond – that’s even desirable. But the environmentalist squelching of public infrastructure development, along with competitive private sector development of land, energy and water resources, has created artificial scarcity. In turn, this drives up asset values which helps government pension funds two ways (1) directly through appreciation of their invested assets, and (2) indirectly, by creating new real estate collateral for consumer borrowing which stimulates consumer spending which creates corporate profits and stock appreciation. In short, the economic consequences of artificial scarcity are asset bubbles that, for a time, keep unionized government worker pension funds solvent. When you can’t afford to own a modest home, or run an energy intensive business, remember this.

What libertarians and environmentalists both need to understand is that massive public works are one of the prerequisites for broadly distributed prosperity. And the environmentalist bias against massive civil engineering projects is two-faced. For example, managing delta salinity, the flow of the San Joaquin River, and the very existence of one of the largest refuges for waterfowl in the American southwest, the Salton Sea, are all dependent on dams, aqueducts and irrigation. But no more?

If you search for interest groups that favor massive civil engineering projects, you’ll look far and wide and find nothing of significance. Private sector unions ought to be leading the charge, but in recognition of the power of environmentalists and government unions, they settle for politically correct projects of marginal productive value – high speed rail, delta tunnels, and the occasional stadium. The Silicon Valley lobby is even worse – rather than support abundance through innovation, they embrace conservation through surveillance. If Californians recovered an additional 10 million acre feet per year of fresh water through civil engineering projects such as desalination, dam storage, and sewage reuse, there would be no need to embed internet devices into “smart” (and mandatory) side loading washers, low flow toilets, water meters, dish washers, and irrigation systems.

The biggest challenge ideologically however confronts libertarians. Because in the real world, we need to build civil infrastructure within a financial and legal framework that relies to some significant degree on government. If libertarians can reconcile their ideals with the needs of Californians, they might rally private sector union leadership, practical environmentalists, and altruistic members of the public sector. Massive infrastructure development in California on all fronts is long overdue. The revenue producing elements of this infrastructure could be financed through the pension funds – only consuming a fraction of their assets – and give truth to their currently preposterous assertion that they’re helping our economy.

Imagine if California’s government, with help from private and federal sources, was truly committed to creating abundance again through massive civil engineering projects across all areas of critical infrastructure. Can libertarians find a formula that would enable them to urgently support this without violating their core ideals? Can they support development while also being the watchdog against corruption? It could make all the difference in the world.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

California Democrat Goes Rogue, Incurs Government Union Wrath

It didn’t take long for “the brotherhood” of status quo politics to pile on. Within hours of former Assembly member Joan Buchanan having lost her election bid for Northern California’s 7th Senate District seat in last week’s special election to fill the vacancy, she endorsed labor-embraced and fellow Democratic Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord. Together, they joined the panoply of monied special interests led by public sector unions that are largely funding the Democratic Party, to defeat a third Democrat – independent Steve Glazer.

Glazer describes himself as “fiscally conservative, socially progressive.” He is the mayor of Orinda and former political aide to Gov. Jerry Brown. Glazer brandishes “blue” credentials in California, having worked for decades to support Democratic candidates and causes.

But a funny thing happened on the way to governing California: Glazer ran afoul of the Democratic Party establishment when he started challenging the power of public sector unions on municipal and state government. Glazer supported banning strikes by public transit workers, embraced pension reforms and campaigned to elect more business friendly Democrats.

Millions of dollars were spent to try to bury Glazer on Election Day, prompting questions on whether there is a zero tolerance policy in the Democratic party against independent-minded Democrats.

Yet, on Election Night, Glazer not only survived, but emerged as the top vote-getter. A May runoff is scheduled.

Glazer stands out because it is rare for Democrats to “go rogue” and support labor-opposed changes to teacher tenure or curbing government pensions. Despite the “big tent” image, discourse and dissent is disallowed, despite growing public support for these reforms. Party-supported candidates are reminded that the hand that feeds them comes with a demand of loyalty.

If not, as was done to Glazer, they become labeled with the equivalent of a political red-letter A: abandonment of the Democratic Party for not remaining subservient to the interests of those who fund them. Forget 50 shades – can Democrats even be allowed to display more than one shade of blue? Yet, the dirty laundry of adherence to blind allegiance has erupted into public view in recent election cycles.

Indeed, in 2008, then-candidate Barack Obama lost favor with the National Education Association for his support of holding teachers and schools accountable and linking student outcome data to teacher evaluations. Since then, he and his Education secretary have largely earned the wrath of national teachers unions.

In the most-recent Los Angeles mayoral election, Eric Garcetti defeated a fellow Democrat largely by portraying his opponent as blindly subservient to the city unions that had endorsed her. Today, Democratic Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel faces a re-election runoff due to his willingness to battle Chicago’s powerful teachers unions.

Meanwhile, in Orange County’s special election to fill another vacant state Senate seat, two Republicans battled each other. Former county Supervisor John Moorlach – the candidate who refused to accept campaign contributions from labor unions – claimed outright victory in that Republican stronghold district. His opponent, Assemblyman Don Wagner, R-Tustin, was financed by labor unions who perceived him to be more allegiant to the state’s public sector unions.

The outcomes of both elections – one in a Democratic and one in a Republican stronghold district – send strong signals that voters desire to reclaim their party, and not allow candidates to be constricted to only one shade of red or blue. The challenge now is to seek independence in California’s remaining 38 Senate districts, 80 Assembly districts and every statewide and constitutional office.

About the Author:  Gloria Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. Romero is the director of education reform for the California Policy Center. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission from the author.

"Tax Reform," Government Union Style, Equals Tax Increases

There is a clamor in Sacramento for “tax reform.” But for every political pundit, politician and bureaucrat in the room, there is a different definition of “tax reform.”

For fiscal conservatives, tax reform means tax cuts. The State of California takes too much of our money now and this heavy tax burden unquestionably hurts working families and hinders economic growth.

But for self-styled “progressives,” tax reform means even more tax hikes to feed an ever growing government and the demands of tax hungry special interests.

Because these two visions of “tax reform” are polar opposites, is it even possible to agree on anything related to changing California’s tax system?  Surprisingly, the answer is yes.

Both conservatives and liberals have at least acknowledged that California government is too reliant on revenue that fluctuates wildly.  In other words, there is some agreement that the mix of things that are taxed might be altered so that tax revenue is more predictable.

The desire to address revenue volatility is understandable.  Indeed, a commission was created by former Governor Schwarzenegger to address this very issue.  Unfortunately, the commissioners themselves could not agree on a solution.

Now, newly elected state Senator Robert Hertzberg has proposed that California start taxing services, not just sales of physical goods.  The reasoning behind Senate Bill 8 (SB8) is that services make up a much larger slice of today’s economy than in the past and in order to have a “balanced” tax system, we should consider expanding the tax base to things like car repair, legal services, kids piano lessons and dry cleaning.

But taxing services is a bad idea for California.  First, such a levy would have a depressing effect on California’s service economy.  It is a simple fact of economics that when you tax something you get less of it.

Second, and somewhat related to the first, is the ability to avoid the tax by exporting the service.  For example, one can avoid California’s tax on accounting services simply by hiring an out of state accounting firm.  And speaking of avoiding the tax, unlike a sales tax where there is an inventory of physical goods that can be tracked, it is much more difficult to ensure compliance with a tax on services.  California already has a massive problem with tax avoidance due to the huge percentage of the economy that is “underground.”  A tax on services would drive even more economic activity into the shadows.

Some respected tax experts have not rejected out of hand the notion of extending a tax to services but only if done incrementally and in a manner that does not result in a net tax increase.  And here is where the Hertzberg proposal is especially flawed.  Rather than extend the tax to services and lowering the tax rate on both sales and services so the proposal is “revenue neutral,” SB 8 has no provision for lowering the rate.  So what is the tax hit on Californians?  It is estimated to be $10 billion annually.

Last week, a Wall Street Journal article noted how several states in America are now cutting taxes to stimulate economic growth and provide needed relief to their citizens. But the ruling class in California apparently wants to head in the opposite direction.

Taxpayer advocates should always be prepared to discuss legitimate tax reform. But, at this point, Senate Bill 8 doesn’t qualify.

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

Unions – The Biggest Bullies in the School House

There has been a great deal of public attention on the problem of bullying in our public schools. Issues such as possible causes as well as appropriate administrative and legal remedies have been hotly debated across the country by educators, parents and politicians with varying responses.

The focus of bullying heretofore has been limited to students. This narrow perspective misses the most egregious culprits: the unions. The teachers’ union is the focus of this article.

Teachers are compelled as a condition of employment to join the state as well as the national union and to pay an annual membership assessment of about one thousand dollars. The monies are used to fund collective bargaining, purchase liability insurance and support political causes and candidates that reinforce the union’s power and influence.

In California, these have amounted to massive sums that were used to defeat ballot initiatives inimical to the teachers’ union’s stranglehold on education. The contributions have funded the campaigns of strongly liberal Democrat candidates and to defeat measures against abortion rights and gay marriage. Germane to our thesis, this liberal bias does not reflect the fact that teachers tend to be conservative.

Most teachers who enter the profession are devoted to the education of young minds. They have the best interests of students as their foremost priority. Unions, in contrast, operate out of self-interest. Their top priority is the maintenance of union power, not the welfare of the teachers or students.

Unions strongly oppose any threats to that power such as ballot initiatives in support of school vouchers, charter schools, opportunity scholarships or Education Savings Accounts. They will marshal vast sums of money to quash them. Funded by forced union dues, teachers who dare to speak out against the union’s political positions are subject to intimidation. Most choose to remain silent rather than face censure and harassment.

The California Teachers Union spent $32 million to defeat Proposition 75, the measure which would have required members to consent to their dues being used for political purposes. Of the $50 million unions spent to defeat Proposition 32, a measure to prohibit the use of payroll deductions for political purposes, more than $20 million came from the annual dues paid to the CTA by its 325,000 members.

It is the forced support of radical organizations such as ACORN, People for the American Way, Media Matters, Planned Parenthood and the ACLU that support abortion and gay marriage that prompted Rebecca Friedrichs, a 27-year veteran elementary school teacher with deep Christian convictions, and nine of her colleagues to file a lawsuit against the CTA and the 3.5 million-member National Education Association for violating their rights of free speech and free association.

The lawsuit is currently before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals after Judge Josephine Staton reviewed the case and ruled that a lower court lacked the authority to overturn a Supreme Court precedent. Friedrichs is hopeful her case will be forwarded to the United States Supreme Court.

The legal arguments of her brief have interesting precedents. In the standard organization, membership is on a voluntary basis. In unions, it is not. Tremendous pressure is applied to employees to become members. The level of intimidation and censure is difficult to resist.

Public employees in the federal government were barred from organizing prior to an executive order by President John F. Kennedy. In California, it was Ronald Reagan who granted that right to state employees and Jerry Brown, to teachers.

Non-members are required to pay union dues, called agency fees, because they benefit from the unions’ collective bargaining efforts. This was clarified in a 1977 ruling by the Supreme Court, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education which stated the funds were precluded from being used for ideological or political purposes.

Reality differs from legal dictum. The National Education Association is the largest single contributor to the Democrat party, state and federal elections and liberal causes. Members’ dues are used primarily to expand the union’s political power and influence.

The July 2014 Supreme Court ruling in Harris v. Quinn opened the door to the merit of the complaint by Friedrichs et al. SCOTUS ruled that it was unconstitutional to require non-union Illinois home health care workers to pay union dues.

Justice Samuel Alito added that “no person in the country may be compelled to subsidize speech by a third party that he or she does not wish to support.” His implicit meaning that public employee unions are inherently political organizations suggests that SCOTUS will look favorably on Friedrichs’ complaint.

There is now a zero tolerance policy toward bullying in public schools. The policy should be extended to the biggest bully of all. An unlikely David to do battle with the union Goliath to hold them to the same standard, we wish the diminutive Mrs. Friedrichs well.

About the Author: R. Claire Friend, MD, is the Assistant Professor, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, UC Irvine Medical Center, and the editor of the UC Irvine Quarterly Journal of Psychiatry. She is a retired psychiatrist and frequent commentator on the psychological dimensions of education and social welfare policies.

California's 2014 Local Tax Proposals – The Costly Alternative to Pension Reform

On November 4th, along everything else on the ballot, California’s voters will be asked to approve local tax measures. A list compiled by the California Taxpayers Association, “2014 Local Elections,” shows that across California’s cities and counties, local tax increases proposed include the following:

–  Tax increases requiring only a majority vote: 5 business taxes, 11 hotel taxes, 9 marijuana taxes, 2 “property transfer” taxes, 1 vehicle tax, 1 property “anti-speculation” tax in San Francisco, at least 10 “utility users taxes,” 38 proposals to either increase sales taxes or extend sales tax increases that were set to expire, and a soda tax.

–  Tax increases requiring a 2/3rd vote: 1 “miscellaneous” tax, 11 sales taxes, and 39 proposals to either increase parcel taxes or extend parcel tax increases that were set to expire, and 1 soda tax.

We don’t know why the soda tax in Alameda only requires a majority vote, while the soda tax in San Francisco requires a 2/3rds majority. There’s a lot of things we don’t know, and neither do the voters. As Jon Coupal, head of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, recently said, “it is no accident that local ballots are often bereft of opposition arguments.  City councils will authorize the tax to appear on the ballot but then have very short time frames for arguments.  Sometimes, taxpayers have only 3 days to gear up.”

Statewide measures, such as Prop. 30, the tax increase approved by voters in 2012, garner a lot of attention. But in California, most tax revenue is collected at the local level. A study released last year by the California Policy Center “How Big Are California’s State and Local Governments Combined?,” showed that 85% of California’s total state and local government spending is at the local level. Programs directly administered by the state only account for 15% of spending. Local government spending in California now totals well over $300 billion per year.

Adding measures to increase local government taxes at the last possible moment before the filing deadline has the practical effect of preventing a balanced ballot discussion of the merits of these tax increases. And invariably, the proponents of these tax increases are the people who will benefit from them – the public employee unions whose coffers are filled via automatic payroll deductions from taxpayer funded public workers. They are consistent advocates for higher taxes, advocacy backed up by campaign funding that dwarfs any other special interest. Even if they have the means, local merchants and developers rarely dare to challenge the public employee unions who represent the people they have to go to for permits and inspections. You can’t fight unionized city hall.

To appreciate just how effective government unions are at what amounts to perpetual campaigns to raise local taxes, take another look at the “2014 Local Elections” list from the California Taxpayers Association, and review the final results of the local tax proposals that were on the June 3rd ballot. Of the 32 parcel taxes proposed, 25 passed with a 2/3rds majority. Of the 11 sales taxes proposed, 10 passed with a 2/3rds majority. Of the 4 new fire taxes proposed, 3 passed with a 2/3rds majority. Out of 8 proposed “miscellaneous” tax increases, 7 passed, requiring only majority votes. And so on. Almost all of them passed – along with scores of local proposals enabling billions in new bond debt.

And for those handful of measures that fail, there’s always the next election. Once taxes are increased, they are very hard to repeal.

None of this is to suggest that taxes should never be increased. But voters should be aware of where most of the money is going. Another California Policy Center study, “How Much Do California’s State, City and County Workers Really Make?,” released in February 2014, using data from the State Controller’s Office, calculated the average pay plus benefits for California’s state, city and county workers. The findings (ref. Table 2) show that during 2012, in California’s cities, the average total pay plus benefits was $124,058; counties, $102,312; state agencies, $100,668. This in a state where the median household income in 2012 was $58,328.

There’s one more big piece to this story.

As documented in our UnionWatch editorial last week, one of the recently passed local sales tax increases – passed by Watsonville voters on June 3rd – is projected to raise $2.8 million per year to “replace police cars, add another team of paramedics, and hire more police officers.” But the scheduled increase to the annual required pension contribution for Watsonville is estimated at $2.4 million – using up nearly all of the proceeds from this new tax. There’s nothing unique about Watsonville’s situation. CalPERS has announced a 50% increase to their required pension contributions. Other pension funds in California, including CalSTRS, are following suit.

To distill this phenomenon into the most stark and simple terms possible – California voters are currently being asked to pay higher taxes so state and local government workers can continue to collect pensions and retirement health benefits that average well over $60,000 per year for non-safety employees, and around $100,000 per year for safety employees, after only 30 years of full-time work. The average Social Security benefit, after 45 years of work, starting at age 67, is $15,000 per year. Taxpayers may determine for themselves whether or not this is an equitable situation, or something that should be challenged.

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Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center

REFERENCES

Estimating America’s Total Unfunded State/Local Government Pension Liability (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
September 9, 2014

The Case for Adjustable Defined Benefits
July 31, 2014

Evaluating Total Unfunded Public Employee Retirement Liabilities in 20 California Counties
May 6, 2014

Evaluating Public Safety Pensions in California
April 15, 2014

How Much Do CalSTRS Retirees Really Make? (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
March 12, 2014

Comparing CalSTRS Pensions to Social Security Retirement Benefits
February 28, 2013

How Much Do CalPERS Retirees Really Make? (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
February 13, 2013

How Much Do California’s State, City and County Workers Really Make? (includes downloadable spreadsheets)
February 1, 2013

Are Annual Contributions Into CalSTRS Adequate? (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
November 8, 2013

Are Annual Contributions Into Orange County’s Employee Pension Plan Adequate? (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
August 30, 2013

A Method to Estimate the Pension Contribution and Pension Liability for Your City or County (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
July 24, 2013

How Big Are California’s State and Local Governments Combined?
July 12, 2013

Calculating California’s Total State and Local Government Debt
April 26, 2013

City of Irvine 2012 Compensation Analysis (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
April 8, 2013

How Lower Earnings Impact California’s Total Unfunded Pension Liability (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
February 18, 2013

City of Costa Mesa 2011 Compensation Analysis (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
October 3, 2012

City of Anaheim 2011 Compensation Analysis (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
August 29, 2012

City of San Jose 2011 Compensation Analysis (includes downloadable spreadsheet)
August 10, 2012