I’m looking sadly at the family refrigerator, imagining it as barren white slab, stripped of all the children’s artwork that makes it such an emotional focus of our home. And I’m thanking God for California’s public employees, because they made it possible for the Pearce clan, and all California clans, to enjoy the best of Crayola art while we put away the milk and cold cuts.
And it’s not just that. Without the fine folks whose paychecks are signed by John Chiang, we would be living in a gloomy and dangerous place. (I thought California was a gloomy and dangerous place, but now I know better.) We wouldn’t have known of this great debt we have to our state employees were it not for Willie Pelote of the American Federal of State, County and Municipal Employees, who wrote an open letter to Jerry Brown and published it in today’s California Labor Federation blog,
“Imagine being unable to take a walk in a park on a sunny afternoon or being unable to borrow books from the library or to hang a picture drawn by your child at school on the refrigerator.
“Imagine traversing potholed roadways or waiting hours to catch a train or bus home after work or telling your children that you can’t afford to send them to college.”
Pelote tells us that’s not just what could happen, no, it’s what already is happening for “the majority of Californians who have to work for a living” – as opposed, I suppose, to that minority of trust fund baby Californians who sit around drinking champagne and sending their butlers to cash their dividend checks. Why? Because we’ve bought into the false reality of thinking we can balance the budget by doing with a smaller state government. Foolish us!
I’m so glad Pelote made this an open letter instead of one of those infernal closed letters, because now I understand the risks to the very bedrock of American ideals – equal opportunity and a fair deal – that we would face if we ever eliminate a single additional state employee from the payroll. It’s not just that these folks are “stewards of the sources of our common wealth,” why they’re “necessarily more highly educated, more highly skilled, and more highly experienced” than the rest of us schleps. And that’s why they all rush to retire at 50 or 55 with their full salary and benefit package for life – if they didn’t, they’d become so much more educated, skilled and experienced that their heads would probably explode.
Pelote is really trying to help the incoming governor, because Lord knows, the man’s got a Gordian knot of problems to deal with. I’m sure Brown is relieved that the solution to it all is so clear. First, Pelote says, we’ll drop those pesky Enterprise Zones and the tax credits they provide to evil private sector employers. Then we’ll eliminate all those nasty corporate tax loopholes because they might encourage private companies to hire people who otherwise could become AFSCME union members. And the state should just knock off this crazy hiring of private contracting firms because, as Pelote has already explained, the public sector guys and gals are better educated, more skilled and more experienced – and let’s not forget, they’re nicer, less self-centered and more responsive, too!
Then, just to make sure there’s enough money flowing in to keep those benefits dollars flowing out, we’ll raise taxes. Not just any taxes, but taxes on capitalist, free-market types by taxing stock trades. That’ll hurt Wall Street, and we all know it’s Wall Street that we have to blame for our ills, not public employees, like the ones that forced Wall Street to give home loans to just about anyone, and the dedicated state employees who invested CalPERS money in top-of-the-market real estate. With the bureaucrats doing such a smashing job, why bother with a free market anyway, Pelote asks?
“If the free market is really as ideal a mechanism for creating wealth as its supporters claim, then why must taxpayers subsidize the operations of private sector companies?
“In fact, since the private sector has so far been unwilling or unable to produce the kinds of jobs we need to pull California out of recession, that is all the more reason to be vigilant with our tax dollars.”
Amen! Now that we’ve regulated and taxed it into oblivion, let’s just do away with that burdensome private sector entirely. Pelote and his union friends, smart as they are, can see a better world, where California agencies, departments, commissions, boards and councils will employ all of us, and as our union fees go to feather Pelote’s bed, we’ll spend our time writing regulations for each other in one big, happy festival of oversight and micromanagement, with comfortable salaries and splendid retirements for all.
It’s interesting that Pelote – who, after all, is just a consonant and a vowel away from “Pelosi” – couldn’t find a way to get the words “retirement benefits” or “pension spiking” into his open letter, or that with all his talk of rosier state finances he eluded any mention of the state’s $500 billion unfunded liability for the retirement and lifetime health benefits of our cherished older stewards of the sources of our common wealth. I’d probably understand why he did this if only I were better educated, more skilled and had more experience.