Saturday, January 24, 2009

Turn back, O man... opposed to, "Go West, young man."

Chicago Boyz, a great economics blog, raises the question of whether California has passed an important tipping point:

I think a threshold or tipping point exists in the ratio between the political power of those who pay taxes and those who consume taxes directly. After that tipping point is reached, those who pay taxes become the economic slaves of those who consume taxes.

The power of unions is intrinsic to the question; a union aggregates the concerns as well as the influence of however many members it has toward particular political and economic aims. Shannon Love, one of the boyz, notes that

California has ~2.3 million unionized government workers and ~18.6 million civilians. With so many people organized with a laser-like focus on increasing taxes and spending, the private working citizens of California find it nearly impossible to prevent government workers from voting their own paychecks.

And more:

As far as the state government is concerned, people in the private sector work merely so that they can be taxed for the benefit of the tax consumers. They’ve entered a condition not unlike like that of pre-industrial serfs.

Of course no one is being whipped, but in effect an ordinary citizen of California cannot get their desires for reduced state spending implemented due to the disproportionate power of the State’s employees and allied interest. It appears now that the government unions will not accept any solution to California’s budget crisis except increased taxes in a declining economy. Ordinary citizens have no choice but to either emigrate or just lie there and take it.

I'm conflicted. On one hand, my family and my husband's all live in California; we'd love to return there if we could, not just so that we could see them all more often but so that we could stop spending so much money and vacation time on our too-short, too-infrequent visits. Furthermore, California really is just about the best place in the country for people like us: pleasant climate, beautiful scenery, cosmopolitan all the way down to many of the small towns but still with lots and lots of wilderness ranging from unspoiled to complete-with-cabins for those who want flush toilets, all kinds of outdoor and indoor recreation readily accessible. But on the other hand... I don't really want our household to work for (sorry, bro) my brother's. Real estate, though down from recent years, is still too expensive for us to consider committing income to a mortgage when we have so little control over how much of that income will never hit our pockets.

From the Sacramento Bee, I see that Schwartzeneggar's proposal to have all nonessential State workers take one day off every other week, accruing vacation time but not pay for that twice-monthly furlough, has been axed by the State Controller as being outside the Executive's authority. And here, the Bee speaks with a labor leader from the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) about what's "on the table" for labor negotiations in California's current serious budget crisis:

So what's changed [that Ms. Walker sounds "upbeat" about upcoming negotiations]?
Well, we've been trying to be part of the solution all along. But having the controller validate that furloughing isn't legal helps. Maybe now the administration is ready to sit down and have the hard conversation.


And money will be part of the "hard conversation"?
It hasn't been so far, but it has to be (now).

What about furloughs?
That I don't know. Certainly you have to recognize it's not something we'd bring to the table, but we're not opposed to talking about it. People need to recognize that we're not just people who take from the general fund. We're taxpayers, too. We understand what's at stake.

So are you saying that holding the line in terms of pay would be considered a win, given the state's money troubles?
That would be good, wouldn't it?

Emphasis mine. I don't get how we reconcile the last two Q&As: "We're taxpayers too, not just feeding at the public trough," and "It'd be good if our pay can stay exactly the same."

This is a loooooong post. But I love California, and its condition today saddens and frustrates me. Sigh.


Gahrie said...

How do you think I feel?

I live in California, and I belong to one of those unions. In fact, for four years I was the building representative for our school, and for one year was the local's technology chair. And I don't think government employees should be able to form unions. But no one else was willing to do those jobs, and somebody had to, so my sense of responsibility overcame my philosophical opposition and I did it. As soon as I was able to find someone else to do it I stepped aside.

I totally reject my state and national unions, and oppose almost everything they do, yet I am required to pay them dues as a condition of employment.

I completely understand the fact that my state union is largely responsible for what is happening in California. Not only do they demand ever increasing amounts of money for education, but they support every Democratic politician, every new government bureaucracy, and unfettered immigration (illegal or otherwise).

Now there is a real chance that thousands of us are going to lose our jobs (yes, including me) and those of us who remain are going to have even worse working conditions. We are expecting class sizes of 40 students next year. This year they have already cut all stipends for extra duties (but still expect us to do them), and print and supply budgets (forcing us to spend even more of our own money).

I would actually consider moving out of state (leaving all of my family behind), but I don't want to try to sell my house in this market.

I am so disappointed with Arnold. He was elected precisely to prevent this crap from happening and made so many promises, but instead turned into yet another tax and spend politician.

Jamie said...

Too right, Gahrie... My sister is a public school district psychologist (and, like you, a reluctant union rep for a while); my brother and his wife both work for the State. My parents continue to begin from the proposition that working for the government is (a) the best employment for "good" people and (b) the most stable employment out there. Natural enough, considering my dad's long military service. But that my husband works for Corporate America and has no "ambitions" at all to go be a Federal or State worker is a source of at least puzzlement to them...

I feel for you, man. Best of luck and keep me posted on your situation.