California, once a state that could easily justify the adjective “golden,” nowadays seems to always find itself at the bottom of lists Californians would rather be at the top of — like quality of education — and at the top of lists they’d like to be at the bottom of — like the most recent: largest public employee pension fund losses.
The data is from a pretty reliable source — the U.S. Census Bureau — and it shows California lost $136 billion in 2009, or 21.2 percent of the total national losses in public employee pension fund assets. The state has 12 percent of the nation’s population and 18 percent of all state pension fund assets — which in itself is a sign of how comfortably the state’s public servants will spend their retirement years.
The one-year loss equals $3,677 for every man, woman and child in the state — and since we’re on the hook for any shortfalls, that’s a bill that could come due. Heaven forbid that public employees would ever be asked to accept pension cuts like the poor folks who must work to produce something other than taxes, fines and regulations.
Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown and the Democratic legislature have been making things worse, approving six state worker labor contracts that fall short of the levels of savings Brown said he would demand. The politically powerful — which means they give millions to Democrat candidates — California Correctional Peace Officers Association dodged having a cap placed on vacation days, so we can look forward to a continuous display of pension-spiking that will cost us millions. Under the new contract, the guards also will get from $780 to $1,560 a year if they have a physical exam. Just lugging their wallets around should be exercise enough for the cosseted prison guards.
Lest you think the California legislature is doing nothing but figuring out new ways to make life better for the public sector, a quick check of the California Squirrel website — named after Dug, the dog in the movie Up! who was so easily distracted by the critters — shows that Sacramento has also been busy not addressing California’s spreading fiscal calamity. Among the bills they’re filling their days considering are ones that would more clearly define what is and what is not compost, set “cool pavement” building standards to save the planet from global warming, make sure we never slip up and call an animal shelter a “dog pound,” and encourage us to refer to March as “Parks Make Life Better Month” — which raises the question, do parks make life better even if they’re shut down because the state has run out of money?
At least Californians who live in Riverside County will be getting some relief from the public employee pension crisis. No, the county hasn’t successfully shut down employee demands; rather, it’s shut up its board of supervisors. The supervisors just voted 3-2 that they should avoid publicly discussing the details of ongoing talks with the county’s unions, including not telling the public what they’d like to see happen at the negotiating table. The two supervisors who have been most vocal about having to curb the rising cost of public employee pensions voted against the measure, while the three who voted for it tried to explain how they’re not muzzling the public debate.
Now if we can just get Jerry Brown to stop publicly discussing tax increases, the state just might start righting itself.
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.