Editorial

Crazifornia: Jerry Brown shows his hand — and it’s union made

Laer Pearce Author, Crazifornia

California’s 32,000 prison guards and parole officers — notorious for enjoying political clout wildly exceeding their meager numbers — tried to negotiate a new contract with former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger for four years but got nowhere. After just three months of negotiations with Jerry Brown, they got their contract, and hapless Californians got the clearest signal yet that Brown is not going to deal responsibly with the state’s unfunded public employee pension liabilities of as much as $500 billion.

The details of the new California Correctional Police Officers Association contract haven’t yet been made public and haven’t yet been analyzed by people who, unlike me, can tell a POFF from a PLP. (If you’re curious, POFF II contributions are suspended for two years under the new contract and one PLP will be granted every 12 months.) Still, it’s easy to read the net result.

In a letter yesterday to his board of directors, CCPOA executive director Chuck Alexander wrote, “The majority of the rights and protections that exist in our old MOU have been carried forward in this new MOU.”

Any objective California governor would realize the state can’t afford to do that. It’s not like this is a union that needs more coddling. It has grown at a rate of almost 1,000 members a year since its formation in 1980. It has a 70-person staff that includes 20 lawyers. Even that’s apparently not enough, since Brown’s new contract with the union includes even more new positions. You’d think California was a state that’s not in a fiscal crisis.

Brown knows all this, but still gave away the store. Meg Whitman and her primary campaign rival Steve Poizner also realized the dire fiscal consequences of letting the public employee unions run Sacramento, but unlike Brown, they campaigned accordingly. Unfortunately, this is deep-blue California, so all that’s left of their efforts is a couple unvisited and outdated campaign websites and tons of recycled campaign mailers.

Brown has Zenfully played at being inscrutable since he took office, talking about addressing public employee costs without ever hinting at how. As late as last Friday, he said he was willing to incorporate salary and pension reform provisions in the new budget . . . again, without hinting at how. But with the CCPOA contract, he’s no longer inscrutable — he has outed himself as the guy who’s chanting the union mantras in his heart of hearts.

With the charade over, Brown decided to call the legislature together today for a budget vote. Talks with the GOP had collapsed over the weekend with the GOP blaming union inflexibility, and the CCPOA news was about to break, so he had no further opportunity to pretend to be concerned about the surging unfunded pension liabilities brought on by the avarice of the public employee unions.

GOP legislators will lose on the budget vote, given the state’s new 50 percent vote threshold for a new budget. But they will remember the CCPOA well when it comes time to vote on Brown’s proposed tax-hiking initiatives, which still require a two-thirds vote from both houses.

They will remember how the CCPOA contributed $1.5 million to Gray Davis’s 1988 gubernatorial campaign, then pumped in $1 million more for independent ads. And they will remember how Davis reciprocated by granting them a 34 percent pay hike that will cost Californians $2 billion over the life of the contract — not a bad return on $2.5 million.

And they will certainly remember that the union backed Brown’s election with almost $2 million.

So maybe, just maybe, Republicans in the Senate and Assembly will hold together and not give Brown the votes he needs to put the tax hike initiatives on the ballot. If they do, the governor will be forced to look for new ways to cut expenses. It will be hard for Brown to continue to rely on his tired trick of calling out popular parks, poor babies, aspiring students and pitiful old folks as the sole targets for budget cuts, while continuing to ignore the well-paid, well-cared-for public union members who put him in office.

Laer Pearce, a veteran of three decades of California public affairs, is currently working on a book that shows how everything wrong with America comes from California.