The new octopus

In Stockton's 2014 bankruptcy trial in Sacramento, CalPERS attorney Michael Gearin argued before Judge Christopher Klein that CalPERS is "an arm of the state" and not a creditor to Stockton. Klein disagreed.

David Crane says California has switched masters:

Until 1910, the dominant political force in California was the Southern Pacific Railroad. … A century later, state and local government employee associations are the new Southern Pacific.

“… the wage-earning members of government employee associations (eg, police, firefighters, prison guards, teachers, et al.) collect more money from state and local governments and school districts in California than anyone else, pocketing over $100 billion per year in salaries and benefits. Their share of government budgets can exceed 80 percent.”

The problem: ” … legislators know government employee associations are paying attention and that citizens, students and taxpayers are not. In fact, legislators often count on their constituents not knowing such truths.”

The solution: ” … to pay attention. That means more than tweeting and cocktail-party conversation. It means serious, studious and sustained political activity, including financial support …”

Public employee unions have bent California to their will. And their will is self-enrichment. Unfortunately, Crane’s solution is problematic. When bargaining time comes around for Stockton’s nine public employee unions they go behind closed doors with public management officials and bargain in secret. How is cocktail-party conversation supposed to counter that?

Crane is right that the buck stops with the public. Stocktonians snoozed through the decade in which public employees gained unsustainable overcompensation. Then when bankruptcy loomed they responded by electing Anthony Silva mayor. That does not suggest a civic IQ equal to tempering public employee unions.

The city’s bankruptcy led to a Long-Range Fiscal Plan that caps public employee compensation. But even that has had to yield to the reality of statewide wage levels. Leaders had to bend the plan to pay police more and stop them from leaving for higher-paying cities.

A more likely solution is relief through the courts. The state Supreme Court, due to consider several pension cases, may overturn the “California Rule” that pensions are inviolate even if they destroy government. Failing that, deliverance may still come through courts — federal bankruptcy court, when innumerable municipalities founder into bankruptcy, Stockton experiences Chapter 18 and pensions are finally impaired.

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  • Blog Author

    Michael Fitzgerald

    Mike Fitzgerald is The Record’s award-winning metro columnist. His column runs in the paper three times a week. Born in San Francisco, he was raised in Stockton. His column covers diverse beats including, sometimes, the offbeat. Read Full
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