California columnist Joe Mathews raises a great issue in a U-T op-ed — California’s growing problem of increasingly paying more for less. It’s a major issue, especially with government services.
But then he fails miserably — not identifying the single biggest factor. In this case, he never addresses the principal reason why the cost of California government services are so high — and how that high cost impacts the quantity and quality of such services.
The primary problem? We overpay and over-pension our CA state and local “public servants” — compared to other states, and especially compared to the California private sector. That unnecessary expense adversely impacts government’s ability to adequately deliver its services.
For instance, the average California firefighter is paid 60% more than paid firefighters in the other 49 states. CA cops are paid 56% more. Are our firefighters 60% better than firefighters in the other states? Are our cops 56% better? Not likely.
Meanwhile the CA 2011 median household income (including our 2,400,000[!] or so government workers) is only 13.4% above above the national average. There’s no justification for this public employee excessive compensation cost.
Mathews states that “ ‘More for less’ in California is the consequence of long-term trends and public policies. The gist: Generations of excessive frugality and underinvestment have created various forms of scarcity in public services.”
Seriously?? California has experienced “generations of excessive frugality”??? In what parallel universe is that true?
CA is one of the three highest taxed states in America, and that’s not counting our madhouse “fee” and fine structure that periodically gouges us “Hazzard County” style — far more than the fees and fines levied in other states. For instance, our CA traffic tickets average triple the cost of other states.
We taxpayers have “invested” plenty over the years, but most of it has gone for excessive public employee pay and benefits — not counting the huge unfunded taxpayer liability for all the underfunded pensions and retiree healthcare. Yes, much of that excess should have been invested in infrastructure improvements — but though we taxpayers coughed up the “investment” money, and it was then spent at the behest of the public employee labor unions — not for what was needed.
And then, to add insult to injury, when our CA politicians deign to spend some money on our infrastructure, they seek to do it in the most inefficient manner possible — paying “prevailing wage” rates (a.k.a. the highest wage rates and benefits by far) to labor union construction firms that in turn must comply with “make work” union rules. This overspending coupled with limiting bidders on such projects drives up our construction costs 30% or more — giving us less bang for the infrastructure buck.
BTW, water is one of the “pay more for less” irritations we face in California, as Mathews correctly points out. But even our higher “water” rates are partially related to our overpaying government employees. Buried in every public water agency’s budget are the salaries and benefits we pay the employees of these monopolies. These gold-plated payments fly below the radar of the press and taxpayers, but are worth a look.
Here’s one water agency’s rates — typical of what such agencies throughout the state pay. It’s the Marin Municipal Water District. 12 pages. The bottom pages are part-timers, or people who left or retired during the year, or people who changed job positions during the year (job title changers will show up as two employees in the stats).
CAUTION: First take your blood pressure medicine. And then, if your head hasn’t yet exploded, consider searching your OWN water district — if you dare.