Our View: State pays employees to much
Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger understood California's real problem was overspending, not a lack of revenue. He was wise to acknowledge it. He wasn't so wise in ignoring his own words. He signed a huge tax increase approved by legislators in 2009.
His successor, Gov. Jerry Brown, claims to have made deep spending cuts, even though current expenditures are 6 percent higher than the previous year's. Brown also championed another tax increase, this one was approved by voters in November after a well-financed campaign.
Clearly, blame for the state's overspending problem can be shared by governors, legislators and voters alike.
Now the Bloomberg news service underscores California's persistent problem.
Despite efforts to reduce spending, and perhaps because of giving government more to spend, the state has built on the legacy of both governors' predecessor, former Gov. Gray Davis.
"Davis escalated salaries and benefits for 164,000 state workers, including a 34 percent raise for prison guards, the first of a series of steps in which he and successors saddled California with a legacy of dysfunction," Bloomberg reports.
The state's highest-paid workers now make far more than comparable workers in almost all job and wage categories, from public safety to health care, base pay to overtime.
Analyzing payroll data for 1.4 million public employees in the 12 most populous states showed unsurprisingly that California, in Bloomberg's words, "set a pattern of lax management, inefficient operations and out-of-control costs."
The result has been funding cuts for schools, public safety and the poor to meet politicians' obligations for pay and pensions "taxpayers couldn't afford," said Bloomberg.
Reaction was predictable. "Until public employee compensation and benefits are brought in line, there will be no answer to the fiscal shortfalls that California governments at every level face," said Lanny Ebenstein, of the California Center for Public Policy, a Santa Barbara-based research institution.
Reaction from other quarters was equally predictable. Brown's office said he inherited the problems, and public union representatives said their members work hard for and deserve their paychecks.
According to Bloomberg, in 2011, Calfiornia's 245,593 employees (nearly 58,000 more than runner-up New York) earned average annual pay of $60,317. That was more than three times the average in Georgia, which ranked 12th, and substantially more than runner-up New York's $55,650.
Paychecks are only part of the problem.
Bloomberg also found that the cost per individual worker is much higher in California than states where unions have the same collective bargaining rights, including New York, New Jersey, Illinois and Ohio.
California also leads in overtime pay, spending almost $9,000 per employee in 2011, compared to New York's $415.1 million, a distant second. Bloomberg notes Davis set overtime policies in motion, but blames his successors for not correcting with strong management, and instead accepting mass overtime as normal.
Voters recalled Davis in 2003, but apparently have been content to accept Schwarzenegger's and Brown's rhetoric rather than address the underlining problem — overspending. Until that is corrected, no amount of tax increase will suffice.