California’s Vicious Circle Continues

California recently was ordered to free 55,000 prisoners because it can’t afford to hold them. It’s yet another manifestation of essential government services getting crowded out by wealth redistribution.

As pointed out below (under the Jan. 24, 2010 entry), in the past decade California state pension costs skyrocketed 2,000 percent. Many union workers can retire at age 50, with 90 percent of their pay, for life. 15,000 of them get more than $100,000 per year. That includes life guards.

In 2009, at least $3 billion was diverted from other government services to pension costs.

As Walter Russell Mead writes, “California’s public unions are sucking the state dry — like a parasite killing its host.” He quotes the “great Louisiana prophet of the blue social model Huey Long: ‘If you aren’t getting something for nothing, you’re not getting your fair share.'”

That so sums up what those on the left stand for these days. They’re always talking about getting their “fair share”. Most of the time, they mean getting it for nothing. (Typical is when some interest group gets free government benefits, and some other interest group screams that they should be getting the same or similar benefits in order to get their “fair share”.)

As explained here, California is caught in a vicious circle. “Constituencies sympathetic to businesses are leaving California in increasing numbers. Meanwhile the state’s generous social welfare programs pull in lower-income people – both from the within and outside the United States – who typically vote against the interests of businesses. With fewer pro-business and more anti-business voters (i.e. fewer Republicans and more Democrats), the result is even more regulations and higher taxes, driving even more businesses out, and so on.”

“Californians have slipped from having the 3rd highest per capita income in the country in 1959, to the 13th highest now. What’s their solution to reverse the trend? Measures to make the state business-friendly again? No. Most of the state’s elected representatives are trying to remedy the situation with more tax increases; part of the vicious circle.”

“So businesses will flee the state even faster. Fewer businesses will want to move there. Entrepreneurs won’t want to set up shop there.”

And its status as a failed state will be driven home even further.

For Government Workers, No More Job Security and Lower Pay. Now, it’s Job Security and Higher Pay. And State Bankruptcy.

Is it “conservative” or “liberal” to be concerned about public employees’ pensions that are devouring state budgets, leaving less and less left over for essential government services?

Usually that’s considered a “conservative” position, although it’s difficult for me to understand how liberals aren’t alarmed by that as well. Occasionally you come across a liberal or two who is. They include prominent California Democrats Willie Brown and Bill Lockyer. The latter said the pensions would “bankrupt” the state, and Brown astutely observed,

“The deal used to be that civil servants were paid less than private sector workers in exchange for an understanding that they had job security for life. But we politicians—pushed by our friends in labor—gradually expanded pay and benefits . . . while keeping the job protections and layering on incredibly generous retirement packages. . . . [A]t some point, someone is going to have to get honest about the fact.”

But don’t get your hopes up. My bet is that not enough liberals will come around to, in Brown’s words, getting honest about the fact. (If they did, wouldn’t they then be considered sellouts to the conservative cause?)

Get this: Just in the past decade, California state pension costs skyrocketed 2,000 percent. That’s 20 fold! At the same time state revenues only went up a measly 24 percent. Many union workers can retire at the tender age of 50, with 90 percent of their pay, for life! 15,000 of them get more than $100,000 per year.

This year alone, reports Steven Greenhut, $3 billion has been diverted from other government services to pension costs.

You can call wanting to fix something like that “conservative”. But in my book it’s just common sense.

Pocketing the Members’ Dues

Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne had a Nov. 9 column attributing the failure of Taxpayer Bill of Rights measures in Washington state and Maine to opponents’ ability to convince enough voters that many of the things government does are necessary and good – i.e. that they’re getting their tax money’s worth.

Contrast that with an article just a week earlier in the Los Angeles Times by William Voegeli, who eloquently lays out what’s wrong these days with the high-tax model in California. Its tax revenue is no longer buying the quality of government services that the taxpayers deserve. Government services there are generally no better than those of much lower-tax states like Texas.

Why? Because the members’ dues are increasingly being funneled to the staff, and away from member programs. Members = taxpayers, and staff = government workers’ salaries, benefits and pensions.

That’s certainly not necessary, and not good. The only people it’s good for are the staff, not the members.