Public Sector Unions Tarnish the Golden State

March 8, 2010 05:48

by Carol Platt Liebau via

Karl Marx insisted that history repeats itself, first as tragedy and then as farce. It seems that at least some of California’s teachers are determined to prove him right.

Last week, teachers in the San Francisco area planned to take their students out of school in order to attend a protest about proposed cuts in education spending. According to a piece in the SF Public Press, children as young as five years old were slated to attend under the auspices of their schools, until the superintendent quashed the idea because of safety concerns.

Aside from the disturbing specter of children being used as political props by their teachers, the spectacle is ludicrous. Reportedly, the rally’s “big slogan” was supposed to be “save our students, save our teachers, save our schools, save our future.” Ironically, that’s what the spending cuts are designed to do – even as state government employees continue to stand in the way.

It’s an ugly fact of life in California. Public sector unions are slowly, painfully and inexorably choking the life out of the (once) Golden State. Fully 54% of state government workers – that’s almost 1.8 million people – are unionized. And the unions’ primary reason for existence is maintaining the privileges that state employees enjoy, at any cost to the rest of the state.

According to Certification Map (a site devoted to explaining the teacher certification process across the country), a California teacher’s salary is 145% that of an average worker in the state (who works 12 months per year!). What’s more, California teachers are the most highly paid in the entire nation, even as the state teeters on the brink of fiscal collapse. And yet, the prospect of any cuts to state government spending elicits nothing but a storm of protest.

It’s an ugly pattern that’s repeated again and again. In response, Democrats in the state legislature simply vote for tax increases. (Perhaps that’s because they received almost $17 million in contributions from California public sector unions, according to the Institute on Money in State Politics, 2004-2006, compared to a paltry $1.22 million to Republicans during the same period.)

But raising taxes isn’t the answer. California has already endured an exodus of talented, productive taxpayers – and along with New Jersey, the state imposes the heaviest tax burden per capita in the country. Hard-working Californians need a tax cut, instead.

Don’t count on any relief coming from a state bureaucracy that has become completely enmeshed in the culture of government spending. Just last month, a left-wing judge decreed that the governor could not impose simple 3-day furloughs on state employees who belonged to three powerful public sector unions. In other words, a sensible, much-needed method of cutting spending was taken entirely off the table by judicial fiat.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the system, as it exists, is unsustainable. The state’s fiscal crisis is reaching proportions that will require real and significant cuts to avoid an economic meltdown. Making the changes necessary to save the state will necessitate resisting the destructive influence of public sector unions. And that’s fine. It’s long past time that public sector unions start working to serve Californians, rather than demanding that Californians work ever harder to serve them.

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