WatchSonoma Watch

GUEST OPINION: Don’t blame public employees for this crisis

Philip Beard

Philip Beard and Tony White are retired professors from Sonoma State University.

From Wisconsin to Sonoma County there has been an avalanche of news reports and personal statements implying that the retirement benefits of public employees are responsible for the current budget crises and cuts in public services.

Blaming public employees or their unions for this crisis, however, distracts from focusing on the real causes, thereby preventing a rational discussion leading to effective remedies.

Tony White

The recession and budget crisis are the result of irresponsible investments made by major financial institutions and a failed policy of deregulation since President Ronald Reagan. Lacking effective oversight, financiers created risky instruments, reaped excessive profits and rewarded their CEOs with generous bonuses.

The downward spiral in the housing market not only put lenders at risk with a record number of bank failures, but meant less credit for consumers, millions of foreclosures and a depressed housing market.

The decline in economic activity created a shortfall in government revenue, producing a budget crisis, compounded by the extension of tax cuts. It was a loss of revenue, not government spending or pensions, which caused the crisis. Although foreclosures continue and unemployment hovers around 10 percent, Wall Street firms and major banks are enjoying record profits and paying CEOs huge salaries and bonuses.

Even though they received millions of dollars from taxpayers, they have refused to renegotiate with homeowners whose homes are under water and facing eviction and are sitting on cheap capital rather than investing in the economy and creating jobs.

Since 70,000 public employees have already been laid off in California, the anger expressed toward public employees is misdirected. As with many other households in Sonoma County, they are having to cope with unemployment and foreclosures.

Although many news reports have focused on county administrators, their high salaries and benefits are the exception. According to CalPERS, the average state retiree pension is $25,000 and half of them receive less than $16,000, which they generally spend in the local economy.

According to a University of California study, the average public employee is older and has more education than those in the private sector, but they earn 7 percent less compensation than private sector workers, even when benefits are included. That wage gap is narrower today, after three decades of wage suppression in the private sector. Although they receive lower monthly wages, public employees make monthly contributions to their retirement funds and receive part of their compensation after years of service in the form of pensions. Since these payments are derived from the investment of these funds, public workers are funding their own pensions.

The problem is not that public employees have greater benefits; the problem is that the labor movement, which brought about decent salaries and benefits for American workers and helped to create the middle class, has been eviscerated by union-busting tactics and the outsourcing of jobs to Mexico, China and India.

Therefore, the real shame is not that public employees have pensions but that corporations either ignored their pension obligations or declared bankruptcy and pressured employees to provide for retirement through 401(k)s.

Now, millions of American families have not only seen their major investment, their home, threatened but also watched their 401(k)s lose value. Because of the decline of manufacturing in the United States, the service sector has become the fastest growing area of union membership. Since those unions tend to support Democrats, corporations and their right-wing allies have targeted public employees and their unions, blaming them for the crisis while promoting less oversight, tax cuts for the rich and lower corporate tax rates.

Blaming public employees for the current economic crisis pits worker against worker and weakens public support for labor unions, while deflecting anger that should be directed against American banks and corporations, along with government officials and politicians from both parties who ignored warnings and insisted on deregulation.

If these tactics are successful, not only will income disparity worsen but an opportunity to reform Wall Street and banking will have been squandered.

74 Responses to “GUEST OPINION: Don’t blame public employees for this crisis”

  1. Sarah says:

    What a lot of “pension envy” on this forum.

    I disagree that it’s “Wall Street’s Fault” or “Bush’s Fault” or the “unions’ fault” etc.

    However, there is fault, and it is not the fault of workers who spent their lives working towards a retirement like everyone else in the working class.

    First, even if I had worked until age 65 for the County, I would not receive a “full retirement” in the sense of full salary. The retirement benefits are capped for regular workers.

    After 28 years of working as a county attorney, at least 60 and often 80 hours per week, I am taking home a retirement of about 43%.

    “There is talk that public workers accepted lower wages for better benefits, yet wages fro public workers did not fall further behind the private sector than 10 years ago, so this is a fallacy.”

    This is a lie. The average cost of living in the Bay Area throughout my career was often 3 to 4 % per year, yet County workers were routinely told there was insufficient money in the budget for cost of living adjustments–and we agreed to 2% or 2.5 % adjustments. We often agreed to NO cost of living but improved benefits.

    During my career in public service, clerks and secretaries in private industry were paid nearly double what their county counterparts made; the average lawyer in private practice makes quadruple what county attorneys make, easily.

    Yes, we contribute to our own retirements–like most employer/employee relationships, we contribute a portion and the employer contributes a portion.

    But unlike private industry, there are no year-end bonuses, financial merit awards, company dinners and lunches, stock options or any of the other benefits so widely employed in private industry which pad the income.

    The vast majority of the people you seek to penalize are support staff, who make up the bulk of county employees. Nice–you would cut the pension benefits of a woman who makes $1200 a month, like my husband’s ex-wife. What a bunch of vultures.

    If you have a problem with public pensions today, maybe you should have been more awake at the wheel while your county supervisors were screwing their workers over the last three decades, crying “poor mouth,” denying fair cost of living adjustments so your taxes wouldn’t get raised, and offering us benefits in lieu of raises.

    The fact that counties have mismanaged their pension funds and there is a shortfall is not the fault of the workers who have devoted years to public service.

    The accusations of laziness and incompetence are baseless. In my office, everyone pulled their weight and then some–if they couldn’t be fired, peer pressure alone drove the lazy ones out because the rest of us didn’t want to pick up someone else’s slack.

    Government spending did not rise on worker’s wages and benefits–government spending rose on government waste. I watched cities spend millions on stupid sidewalk art festivals, or alternative birthing clinics, or remodeling supervisor’s offices with high-end furniture instead of using government-warehouse furniture.

    Government assumed that ever increasing property taxes would cover the shortfalls, and now they don’t.

    This is not the fault of the working class in county employment.

  2. John Sakowicz says:

    The rest of “The Sad Story” is at http://www.yourpublicmoney.com.

  3. John Sakowicz says:


    As readers of “Watch Sonoma County” may know, I live in Mendocino County.

    Yesterday, I was speaking with two of our county’s top cops.

    They are both deputies at the Mendocino County Sheriff’s Office.

    I won’t mention their names, because I want to protect their privacy.

    Suffice it to say that one deputy is a member of our SWAT team. The other deputy, who has now been assigned to patrol, was just rotated out of COMET, the county’s highly regarded marijuana task force that was featured in the popular CNBC documentary, “Marijuana Inc.”.

    Both deputies have been decorated for valor. Both have been shot at. Both are fearless. Both are well-trained, true professionals in every sense of the word.

    They are two of the best cops I know, and I should know because I worked for the Mendocono County Sheriff’s Office from 2000 to 2004.

    Imagine my sadness yesterday when these two deputies and I started talking about MCERA, Mendocino County’s seriously troubled retirement system.

    Troubled? You bet.

    Earlier this week, the Retirement Board fired both its acutuary and its auditor after multi-million dollar discrepancies were discovered by MCERA watchdog and private citizen, John Dickerson.

    Imagine my sadness yesterday when we then started talking about MCERA and its impact on our county’s budget dificit.

    “Sakowicz,” they began. “We want to know why the Board of Supervisors wants Sheriff Allman to lay off deputies. Does MCERA have anything to do with this?”

    “Yes,” I answered. “It has everything to do with it. The system is rigged against you.”

    “”Explain,” they asked.

    “Well, take our last two sheriffs, Tony Craver and Kevin Broin, and our last undersheriff, Gary Hudson.”

    “Each guy gets a big, fat, six-figure retirement check,” I explained. “Yet the circumstances of each guy’s retirement is, at best, dubious.”

    “Go on,” they asked.

    I continued.

    “Craver was ‘medically retired’ due to a ‘service-related injury’. Craver’s injury? Hemorrhoids. He weighed 350 pounds, and in the last 20 years of his career he rarely moved his big butt out of office chair. He was morbidly obese, and he sat a lot…hence, the hemorrhoids”

    “Broin was also ‘medically retired’ due to a ‘service-related injury’. Broin’s injury? Job-related stress. Stress caused by what? Stress caused by losing the last sheriff’s election to our current sheriff, Tom Allmam. Broin couldn’t cope after that. He can’t stand Sheriff Allman.”

    “Hudson was also ‘medically retired’ due to a ‘service-related injury’. Hudson’s injury? Also, job-related stress. But Hudson’s stress was caused by his termination from the Sheriff’s Office following his assault of his girlfriend last June. It was in the newspapers, remember?”

    The two deputies looked at me in amazement.

    “Yes, three bogus retirements, ” I explained. “And each of those three retirees get big, fat, monthly checks.”

    I continued, “And that’s what is wrong with the system. Those retirement checks are guaranteed by the state constituition…however bogus the circumstances of retirement. Meanwhile, the county is broke and getting more broke. Next year, the Board of Supervisors will have to magically come up with millions of dollars more just to sustain our inherently unsustainable — and unfair — retirement system.”

    “Which is why, ” I sighed, Sheriff Allman will have to lay off deputies. We can’t afford you. Retirees, like Craver, Broin, and Hudson, get paid first.”

    They shook their heads and said nothing.

    I went home, and that night I prayed for those two deputies. They are my heros in an unfair system.

  4. The authors of this article present one side of the “usual” debate – “Yea Unions. Boo Wall Street. Raise Taxes. Repeal Prop 13. Boo Banks. Defined Benefits. Close Tax Loopholes.”

    The other side – “Boo Unions. Cut Spending. Repeal 13? – Over my dead body. Defined Contribution. Lazy no good … No Spiking.” And on it goes.

    This debate ignores the main causes of unfunded retiree benefit debt. And it makes it far harder to face our real problems and overcome them.

    The authors say “The decline in economic activity created a shortfall in government revenue, producing a budget crisis, compounded by the extension of tax cuts. It was a loss of revenue, not government spending or pensions, which caused the crisis.”

    Well … then please explain this – Mendocino County first.

    In 1996 Mendocino’s Pension Fund had a $40 million deficit based on the real market value of its investments. The County borrowed $35 million most of which it put into the Fund by selling Pension Obligation Bonds (POB).

    In 2002 the Fund’s deficit was back up to $80 million – despite having received over $30 million from POBs 6 years before. The County borrowed a net of about $75 million more by selling a second round of POB most of which it put into the Fund.

    In 2009 the Fund’s deficit was back up to $130 million. But this time the County didn’t borrow more POB. They haven’t explained why.

    Now … Sonoma County.

    In 1993 Sonoma County’s Pension Fund had a big funding deficit – so the County borrowed nearly $100 million by selling Pension Bonds. Most of the cash went into the Pension Fund.

    But then a decade later the Fund was back in the hole – big time. So the County sold more Pension Bonds – $230 million worth.

    And then – last year Sonoma County sold another round of Pension Bonds – this time $290 million. Whatever stopped Mendocino County from selling its third round of Pension Bonds didn’t stop Sonoma.

    Government Pension Funds SHOULD BE 100% funded on average over the years based on investment market value. When employees retire the government should NEVER have to put more money into the Fund to pay their pensions. If it has to – something is wrong! All that should be needed after retirement is for the Fund to earn its target investment profit.

    If you compare how much each County’s Pension Fund is supposed to have – and then add up the County’s debt caused by the Pension Fund’s deficits – you will find that Mendocino and Sonoma County Pension Fund only achieved half their Pension Funding requirements over the past 2 decades!

    Now – here’s the thing that should blow your mind – and should start to point you toward the real cause of our Counties’ disastrous debt.

    I know for sure that Mendocino County has never had a report produced that would show why their Pension Fund keeps creating more and more County debt. In fact I don’t think even one Supervisor has ever asked that question – Why does this keep happening? What’s going wrong with the Pension Funding plan?

    I believe that’s also true for Sonoma County.

    The County’s financial officials should have produced those reports on their own – it’s fundamental to financial management. You have a plan – you have actual results – you compare the results to the plan to figure out why they are different. And you change things so you don’t keep going into debt. Elementary financial management.

    That’s never been done by either County – for the $250 million Unfunded Pension Debt that is grinding Mendocino’s County’s services into dust – or the $1 Billion that’s doing it to Sonoma’s.

    Think about that.

    The fundamental cause of our County’s very excessive debt caused by unfunded retiree benefits – and the main cause of that same debt plaguing state and local governments across the County – is deeply flawed financial management of those promises.

    The biggest problem I have with “it’s the greedy capitalists fault” argument is it diverts attention from what Sonoma and Mendocino Counties and their Retirement Association have done – or not done – that has created this debt. It’s a cop out.

    In fact – it isn’t either-or. The greedy capitalists did sock it to us – and our government financial managers did as well.

  5. TheObserver says:

    @ pray, watch, do:

    TheObserver concedes your point about Maruitius. It is a small, homogenous nation that is isolated. The U.S. is a gargantuan and diverse society that is decidedly unisolated.

    It appears that (Canada notwithstanding) only these small, homogenous societies can pull off a true and equitable socalistic model (Maruitius, Denmark, Sweden, etc). It just isn’t possible here…too many people, too many competing interests, ideas, cultures, and opinions to make everyone march in the same direction.

    Still, it appears you and I agree taht we can revitalize our regulatory laws and enforcement to stop predators and pirates from plundering that last big dumb pile of money…taxes.

  6. Democratic County says:

    I just posted this on another article but it applies here too.

    I was one of the few Libertarians at the Sonoma County Democratic Party crab feed recently. They celebrated the fact that every elected official in the county was now a Democrat. Who will they side with? Unions. Will most of them listen to you? Of course. Will they act on what you say? No. They are elected over and over and over and they know there is no situation, pension or otherwise, that will prevent them from being elected.
    I am sure it feels good to rant and vent. Unfortunately it will not change state law that lays out how unions are dealt with. As for changing the retirement systems and salaries, no one here has any power and darn little influence on the subject. It hurts, but those are the facts. Socialistic as they are. Welcome to Sonoma County, the real one.
    I do agree with several posts. Most either made up their stats or found them at idipedia… The pension system needs some work, but it won’t happen in the next 15 to 20 years. See, I can call all this facts too. Elect some different people and maybe, just maybe, you can get a 2nd tier retirement for new people to limit the cost. But it will cost.

  7. Sonoma County Voter says:

    Wisconsin Eliminated some issues of collective bargaining. Are they a model to follow? Their ideas are also giving their citizens Constitutional Carry of concealed firearms. Is that another Wisconsin idea California wants to get on board with? Either the state is conservative or liberal. It doesn’t work both ways. California voters follow the democrats. They set the budgets, they approve the contracts. Only the politicians have a say in this issue, the voters who vote them in don’t have a say. They will raise your taxes and support the unions. Always have, always will. The politicians make the laws, who are their best friens? I may not like it, but a few rants in the local papers website isn’t going to change anything. They will just impose a few FEES to fund it all. They would never call them tax increases.

  8. Beef King says:

    The most important fact that one can derive from the partisan bleating of these two ‘professors’ is that they are retired and no longer espousing their Marxist philosophy on the taxpayer dime.

  9. Maryr says:

    Thank you Concerned Taxpayer.

    I have followed these comments for a long time and have never seen a better summation of exactly what is going on in Sonoma County and beyond.

    There are departments at Sonoma County losing up to 20% of their workers due to these increased salary and benefit costs, much of it to the upper tiers. We are cannibalizing younger members of our work force to pay for retirements of older memebers, and cutting more and more of the essential services this County provided for generations.

    There is a movement to change things, anyone want to join us e-mail me at MaryR45@gmail.com

  10. NOTUTOO says:


    “And yeah, law enforcement is a young man’s game. Big part of why I don’t do it anymore. However I’ve known plenty of folks well into their 50′s that kept themselves in top shape (like they should) who are still going out there every day and doing the job just fine, thanks.”

    A few, not plenty.

  11. Voter watcher says:

    Actually, it’s Retired Union member. I will sit on the sidelines and watch everyone slug this one out.

  12. TheObserver: You’re right about what we’ve done, letting white collar pirates pillage our tax coffers to the point of bankruptcy. But Mauritius? LOL Get real, brother. The USA is not that, never was, never will be. We just need to fire all of the current ‘representatives’ and elect grocery clerks, carpenters (non-union, of course), and housewives to clean up 200 years of corruption.

  13. Spoken like a true union employee. Wow. I just shake my head.

  14. Uncertain future says:

    I can certainly see the unions pushing with all their might to eliminate any anti-strike language as their final bargaining chip.

    I own guns and can protect my family. I think if their families livihoods are threatened, they will strike. Unintended consequences.

  15. Concerned Taxpayer says:

    Most unbiased people would agree that the promises to our Public Employees, particularly the Public Safety Workers, are unsustainable. It doesn’t matter who is to blame. “An insurance expert told Santa Rosa’s pension reform task force Thursday that the city’s soaring pension contributions alone won’t be enough to dig it out of the $101 million hole created by richer benefits and steep investment losses”…John Bartel, an actuarial consultant “warned the group that the city faces serious financial challenges with its pension obligations.”
    I may be naïve in my suggestion for change referring to the military, but change is coming as I for one am not prepared to raise taxes to pay these exorbitant costs for Public Workers. When did the public taxpayers become servants to the Public Workers and their powerful unions?
    Here are a few other suggested steps towards a solution:
    - Vote to rescind binding arbitration for public safety workers.
    - Eliminate collective bargaining for public workers to bring balance back to negotiations between public workers and taxpayers
    - As council member Scott Bartley suggested, Implement a two tier system for new employees, and require public safety workers to contribute to their own retirement
    - Since the authors claim public workers fund their own retirement, make that law by changing to 401ks funded entirely by those workers, as is the case for most private workers
    - Preserve the right for city’s to declare bankruptcy to eliminate unsupportable pension obligations, keeping the last bargaining chip for cities.
    The alternative is dramatically higher taxes. In this scenario, the “smart” people will leave the state and tax revenue to the government actually falls. The State and its cities will suffer a loss of vitality as a result, and this is already happening based on my personal observations. I don’t want this for my city or State, do you? Bring your solutions, not just rhetoric.

  16. Joe says:

    One word to all “greed”.

  17. Really Big Fish says:

    @Concerned Taxpayer. Your statement
    “Better still, pay all public safety employees what we pay the military personnel of equal rank, instead of twice as much. If its fair pay for the military with the risks and deprivation they must endure, it must be fair for public safety workers.”

    Is it your observation from life’s experience to equate a 20 year Captain in the Navy(and military equivalent in other services)with a safety service employee such as Captain in the Police Department? Depressing and so out of touch. Statements like that give fodder to posters like Union Worker, the ex-Marine who seems to enjoy sucking the last dollar from his neighbor for his honorable work as a public safety employee.
    @ Union Worker. My wife who has really been saving lives for 30 years on a weekly basis leaves the house at 5AM and returms home after 3- 4 hours of travel about 8PM on a good night 4-5 nights a week. She is non-union who has the deal with nasty and greedy union workers and clearly is underpaid for what she does but she’s appreciative of her job and career.

  18. BigDogatPlay says:

    @ Kevin…

    ‘@big dog at play…The 3% @ 50 was developed because of another “crisis” and that was the high rate of Worker Comp claims coming out of the CHP. That was also supposed to be unsustainable and threatening to bankrupt the state. You can’t expect 55-60 year-olds to push around patrol cars. Law Enforcement is a young man’s game.’

    And it’s done absolutely nothing to cure ‘Chief’s Disease’. The high rate of Worker’s Comp claims in CHP, particularly among the brass, hasn’t been impacted that I’ve seen. It’s still an issue.

    And yeah, law enforcement is a young man’s game. Big part of why I don’t do it anymore. However I’ve known plenty of folks well into their 50′s that kept themselves in top shape (like they should) who are still going out there every day and doing the job just fine, thanks.

    @ Zorro….

    ‘Dog is right – the government was to blame – because a lack of government oversight was to blame for wrecking the economy. That fact is completely indisputable. And who dismantled the government oversight? Why George Bush and the Republicans who hate regulations.’

    Ummmmm you might want to try behind door #2 and ask who wrote the regulations and laws that put the mortgage crisis, which triggered the larger meltdown. Think Barney Frank, Chris Dodd and several others… not Republicans. Bush was sounding the alarm on Fannie and Freddie in the first couple years of his administration and was dismissed by Barney Frank who told us all repeatedly there was nothing wrong with Fannie and Freddie.

    Republicans and Democrats share the blame, to be sure, on the economy. The mortgage meltdown has it’s roots in Jimmy Carter’s administration if you want to dig into it deep enough. But reliance on rhetoric (such as Bush de-regulated everything so it’s his fault) and not actually doing ten minutes worth of research and getting a deeper understanding is a big part of what is wrong with this country and it’s social discourse today.

    Public employees, and the politicians they’ve put into power, are bankrupting California. The sooner more people come to grips with that ugly truth, the sooner we can start working toward equitable solutions.

  19. Union Worker says:

    Really big fish..
    Sorry about the typos.. As you can tell, it was posted late, after the 6th 14 hour shift in a row.

    Previous posts said all union workers should get what the military gets. I attempted to show them there is more to the military than a paycheck when it comes to benefits. Weekly food distribution among the military families is not free either. Sorry I missed the mark attempting to impart a little knowledge.

    The military also gets 50% retirement after 20 years service with lifetime free medical. Was that a suggestion for negotiations?

    As for calling the USMC a freeloading enterprise, you are obviously a proud Sonoma County resident. I will not thank you for that barb at our troops.

    Take the 5% you request our of my 39% taxes. I pay taxes too.

  20. TheObserver says:

    @ mockingbird:

    TheObserver agrees. The bar of education is so low here now that if I were an immigrant looking for work and good schools, I’d go to Canada, France, Denmark or Sweden…wow, those are all socialist countries…imagine that.

    TheObserver is old enough to recall the days when high school was academically rigorous. A high school diploma meant you were grounded in basic education and could perform in the workplace. Now, a college undergraduate degree does not guarantee that. We have illiteracy everywhere and the television (or streaming video) just drones on…

  21. TheObserver says:

    Here’s a country that does it right. Mauritius.


    Our government has wrecked the country with deregulation. It allowed white collar thieves, pirates and predators to run hog wild with dangerous speculative activity, then bailed them all out with our money.

  22. Zorro says:

    Dog says:
    “just who was it that wrecked the economy in the first place? Even if we were to buy into the blame Bush argument, it was the government that wrecked it. That fact is completely indisputable.”

    Dog is right – the government was to blame – because a lack of government oversight was to blame for wrecking the economy. That fact is completely indisputable. And who dismantled the government oversight? Why George Bush and the Republicans who hate regulations.

  23. Zorro says:

    Dog says:

    “So professors…. just who was it that wrecked the economy in the first place? Even if we were to buy into the blame Bush argument, it was the government that wrecked it. That fact is completely indisputable.”

    LOL – Dog does not remember that Bush was part of the government he is blaming.

  24. Mockingbird says:

    To Reality Check:
    The Vietnamese came here in the 1970s. California’s education was near top of all states in quality then. Our state colleges and universities were cheap to attend and I, myself, was able to go to SSU on easy to get grants and loans. The Vietnamese took advantage of what was available and prospered and that’s a good thing. So did hoards of middleclass and poor students.

    Then does not equate with now. California is somewhere around 47th of the states in this country in education. That’s almost at the bottom. That doesn’t necessarily say that the other states are much better. It IS PITIFUL.

    When I went to elementary school they had musical instruments we could borrow, music lessons, band, choir, free sports, free trips to games, field trips, art programs, PE, and we left school knowing how to read-ALL OF US. Few dropped out. Now we teach to tests. Childrens aren’t learning to learn, learning critical thinking and problem solving skills.

  25. Anderson says:

    Perhaps, Michael, but I think these SSU profs love the spotlight that their controversial statements bring. Remember SSU sociologist Peter Phillps and his “Sonoma State is too white” garbage. Really, “professor”? This in an overly tolerant state that encourages illegal immigrants to attend college? And do you recall some old, retired SSU teacher who ignorantly claimed that all criticism of Obama was driven by racism. Absurd. So these 2 moochers more likely fit right in with their colleagues.

  26. Really Big Fish says:

    @Union Worker. First,thank you for serving our country.Second, you need to take a remedial writing course. Oh, yeah, cool!

    Are you trying to equate the value of being a Sonoma County union member with being a United States Marine? Are you saying you went from one free loading government enterprise to another? Were you an officer?

    It’s incredible you are dumping on the military in an effort to defend the corrupt, inefficient and grossly over benefited union you seem to belong to. If unions continue to exist in the future each memeber should pay at least 5% of their income to the military for giving the union members the freedom to live in ignorance.

    Thanks again for service to our country.

  27. Michael Sheehan says:

    As misguided as these professors may be, at least they put their real names on the article, and allowed people with critical thinking skills to rip apart their lefty arguments. Agree with them or not, that took some guts.

  28. Kevin says:

    @big dog at play…The 3% @ 50 was developed because of another “crisis” and that was the high rate of Worker Comp claims coming out of the CHP. That was also supposed to be unsustainable and threatening to bankrupt the state. You can’t expect 55-60 year-olds to push around patrol cars. Law Enforcement is a young man’s game.

  29. Union Worker says:

    I see a big part of the problem. No one wants to believe facts. They all find their own set of facts and stick to them, because they found them.

    I have seen people present facts that the system is broken, others say they are lies. That no one is looking at the long term.

    I have seen people present facts that the system is solvent, others say those are lies. That the dip in 2008 crippled the system beyond repair.

    I have heard the liars are the union leaders and negotiators. That one I resent, because I have been on union boards and have been a negotiator. Maybe our negotiations were different from 99% out there, but we never got a sweet deal and always fought for miniscule raises. I have been here over 25 years and have never seen a 5% raise at one time. 2 or 3 and once a 4% when things were way up. Am I supposed to be yelling “Liar” to those who say the same to me? No. I plan to be part of the solution. I am not going to gripe that my union backed a candidate I don’t support. I am going to get back on the Political Action Commitee and be one of the people selecting candidates I support. I also walk precincts for candidates I believe in. How many have walked on their own time? Damn few I can tell you. There are about 12 people here who have posted out of over 400,000 in Sonoma County. Am I worried you will take away my benefits? No. Do I like being called a liar? No. Are some too lazy to make progress against unions, oh yeah.

    As for the military pay option. I have served in the Marines. As long as you know what you are getting into, I would take in a minute. Free housing, extra money for a wife, then extra for kids. Don’t forget the food stamps and fod dispersal trucks that come into the base housing like a 3rd world aid movement every week. Yeah, that’s cheaper. I dont mind the idea of extra moey for my wife and kids or the free housing. Now we have informed decision makers ready to vote. Cool. Oh yeah, in the end you won’t be getting to vote. The politicians will decide the solution. Hope we all picked good ones.

  30. BigDogatlPlay says:

    @John, you wrote….

    ‘It sounds like a civics lesson is needed. Unions are not the only donors to Politics. Corporations (who would love to pay employees less and boost their profits & bonuses)also donate giant amounts of money to steer the direction of government regulation and spending. If your suggestion is to eliminate political donations then you must do it for EVERYONE, not just one group.’

    Sounds like a political science lesson is in order.

    The two largest contributors to Gray Davis during all the years he was governor were:

    1) California Association of Highway Patrolmen

    2) California Correctional Peace Officers Association

    In 2002, then Governor Davis gave those two collective bargaining units one of the biggest pay and benefit package increases in history. You might have read about it at the time in this article.


    One state senator at the time, a Democrat, was quoted as saying that Davis had essentially given every state employee’s COLA for the following several years CHP officers and prison guards. He also gave them the now infamous 3% at 50 retirement plan at the same time. You’ll also note in the linked article that at the time the state was struggling with a $24B plus deficit for that fiscal year.

    Have things gotten any better since… what with many other classes of public employees catching up in comp and benefits and the public payroll at all levels of Government in California growing at near exponential rates?

    The influence of the public employee unions, still the largest contributors to state and local election candidates, is undeniable and indisputable.

    While you maintain that the union contributions offset private and corporate donations, I think the record over the past twenty years shows us that the influence of the public employee unions has grown in leaps and bounds. And while there might be some offset, in fairness to your point, I as an individual contributor am not negotiating labor agreements, compensation and benefit packages with the elected officials my donations put into office.

    The unions are, which is the problem.

    Here endeth the lesson.

  31. Anderson says:

    Based on this article, it’s easy to see why American students are falling behind their international counterparts. The guilt-ridden, white, liberal “professors” fill their pupils heads with this kind of crap year after year, then they retire and leave the taxpayers on the hook to pay a large portion of their public employee pensions. And after all, the SSU Seawolf is a fantasy character, and these guys surely live in an ivory tower wonderland.

    American workers need to wake up to the fact that a pernicious group is promoting greater dependency on government. Fortunately, many taxpayers still believe in self-reliance and self-responsibility as the road to liberty and freedom, and fully nderstand that out-of-control government spending IS the problem.

    By the way, as a nurses’ union member, I resent the way my dues are used to fund left-wing candidates I do not support, the exact people who led us into the current mess.

  32. Reality Check says:

    //The system is rigged, no doubt about it.//

    Explain then, please, why the children of Vietnamese immigrants started dominating high school honor rolls within 10 years of their tragic arrival to America in San Jose and Orange County?

    Or why, if America as a meritocracy is a myth, it remains the destination of choice of those in world seeking a better life?

    Or why 58% of households in the bottom income quintile rise to one or more higher quintiles within a decade?

    Or why several minority groups exceed the average income of the so-called dominate Anglo class of Americans?

    The evidence that America remains a highly fluid society that rewards hard work, ingenuity, and entrepreneurship is overwhelming.

  33. Professor Private says:

    A couple of government moochers trying to rationalize their pensions. LOL, what do retired German and history “professors” from a government university know about justice and money? Absolutely nothing.

    Government is at the center of everything evil in America. From endless wars to the prison state, war on drugs to kleptocracy pensions. You’re part of the problem guys. Sorry.

  34. Concerned Taxpayer says:

    In the article, Beard and White lecture us to stop “blaming public employees for the current economic crisis”. No one is blaming them for the crisis. They say that the real culprits are “major financial institutions”, “policy of deregulation” and “CEOs”. I agree with them that there is plenty plame to go around. What they ignore is the role that liberal government policies of promoting “afordable housing” so that people who cannot afford them are encouraged to buy houses was a major source of the housing collapse and the consequent reduction in government revenue, and in retirement account values.

    I agree with the authors that unions didn’t directly cause the economic crisis, but while times were good they reaped the rewards with huge salary and benefit increases, and now we’re in recession, they want to keep that largesse. The taxpayer has been hit with declining income, house value, benefits, and a huge haircut in their retirement account. It is the taxpayer the public workers and their unions expect to make up the shortfall in the government budgets, and the losses in their generous public worker pension system. The taxpayers don’t have the money. When are they going to go after the CEO’s, Beaurecrats and Financial institutions to pay for the losses, instead of the taxpayer?

    The authors say “public workers are funding their own pensions”. I’d be delighted if they would pay for their own pensions like I have to, and stop asking the taxpayer to pay most or all of it, plus any losses in the pension system. That would be more equitable and a good start.

    Better still, pay all public safety employees what we pay the military personnel of equal rank, instead of twice as much. If its fair pay for the military with the risks and deprivation they must endure, it must be fair for public safety workers. That would eliminate the budget defecits immediately.

  35. Fiscal Conservative says:

    This seems pretty typical for a professor. Rather than say in my opinion, they state that something is fact.

    In my opinion, these guys have it wrong.

    Enjoy your pension while you can gentlemen. There are plenty of us hard working taxpayers who want to cut it by a good percentage.

  36. TheObserver says:

    @ Mockingbird

    The system is rigged, no doubt about it. Our entire nation sometimes appears to be a giant pyramid scheme (conspiracy theorists say the pyramid on the dollar bill is a mocking symbol of this placed on our currency by the masters of society to let us know that we, The People, are in fact their slaves). The problem with pyramid schemes is that all of them eventually collapse.

    What you said mockingbird, about how even the poor used to be able to put food on the table and pay their rent (and that now they cannot), is the result of never ending inflation and the relentless promotion of debt — both key aspects of the rigged system we live within.

    For decades, the ruling class has drawn more and more of the nation’s wealth to itself by putting the middle class into debt. The wealthy, through a number of mechanisms, lend to the rest of us.

    We know that today about one percent of the U.S. population holds more than 95 percent of all American wealth. That is an obscenity and is the real outrage of our time. Meanwhile, we, the debtors, lose our homes.

    We are trapped by a ruling class and a government that acts as its puppet. Most people hate to think in these terms, believing it unpatriotic.

    To TheObserver, patriotism is the foundation of all propaganda. The truth is that nations come and go…this one will become a footnote in the history books that Chinese or Brazilian school children read in the future…just like Rome, the Soviet Union, the British Empire, and so forth. The United States is not special or exceptional. It is just another empire in decline.

    Those who love their country and believe government (any government) cares about them or listens to them are deluded. To believe this makes one very vulnerable to government propaganda and manipulation.

    Similarly, you might be deluded if you think your union cares about you. Ask Sal Roselli, who led SEIUs healthcare arm in Oakland. He differed with national union management and was brutally harrassed for his dissent. If an organization can get you to become a loyal, unquestioning member, it has you and can make you do almost anything. Take care not to criticize your union, Mockingbird…it will turn on you.

    Back to the macro picture: this nation is no example to us. It is plagued by crusing debt owed to the federal reserve, a private institution held by those at the top of the wealth chain. It fails to curb the excesses of banks, insurance companies, and businesses of all kinds and allows them to pay little to no taxes.

    No country, company, union or other organization is deserving of the total loyalty of any individual. At best, each individual can arrive at an unwritten contract with the institutions that exist in which mutual benefit is the goal and is in fact possible.

    To TheObserver, one of the greatest ironies of the United States is the fact that it was created by sedition. As our own Declaration of Independence says:

    “When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another…they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.”

    That is a great document, isn’t it?

  37. Don Martin says:

    @TheObserver aka retired professors

    For you, the glory days were when the Soviet Union stood tall and enslaved the poor souls who lived in it. The Red China utopia is another good example of your worker’s paradise where millions have been murdered in the name of communism and workers rights.

    The vast majority of employees in this country are not members of unions and somehow seem to lead free unmolested work lives. They are not beaten, whipped or forced to go to work.

    Your views of how modern management functions is as outdated as your Maxist orientation which is based in the 19th century. You need to look at companies like Google, Facebook or Apple to see how companies really function in 2011.

    Your bold assumptions are based on your experience learned from a text book or Maxist professors with whom you have associated all of your life.

    Citizens and students, cast of your chains aside and join the modern nonunion workforce where you can earn a very good living and be free of collectivist dogma. Onward!

  38. Reality Check says:

    A corporation is a collection of people acting as a single entity for a specific purpose. That is true whether we speak of IBM, Sierra Club, SIEU, or the NY Times.

    It makes no sense to suggest that only the latter has the right to promote its political views or interests. The First Amendment is clear in its wording: “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

    It doesn’t say, except for . . . .

  39. Mockingbird says:

    To the observor. Well, I found something you wrote I agree with. The whole system IS rigged. Rigged against the poor and middleclass. It doesn’t make sense to equate corporations on the same level as the American people. This would have scandalized our forefathers. This country was created by the people for the people.

    And I say GO WISCONSIN (and I don’t mean football). What they are doing has brought a lot of information about unions and public employees front and center that people cannot ignore. Information is always a good thing. We workers need to work together, private and public, union or not, to preserve our rights and our way of life because our Plutocrat masters (corporate and in Congress) will continue to try to take more away from us all if we don’t.

    Thanks to our Supreme Court’s decisions and our Plutocrats in Congress WE THE PEOPLE don’t seem to have legs to stand on anymore.

  40. Mockingbird says:

    In answer to the observer.

    Maybe you aren’t aware but the unions do not have either the money or the impact on politics that they once had (unfortunately as far as I’m concerned since they represent the middleclass and no one else does anymore). Nor do they have the funds they were once able to accumulate for political purpose. Compared to the billions poured by corporate interests into races, initiatives, propositions ALL OVER THE COUNTRY WITHOUT HAVING TO DECLARE WHO THEY ARE the unions’ money is just a pittance. I know there is a lot of resentment out there. But you all have to remember that unions used to be the status quo, the middleclass was strong, people had jobs, homes, a car, could take an occasional vacation and mom could stay home if she wanted to. Now the basics are so expensive both mom and pop have to work just to make ends meet. Maybe you aren’t old enough to remember those times but I am. We weren’t rich but even the working poor could put food on their tables and pay their rent.

    And truthfully, our teachers need to be top quality. Our educational system is so far behind other countries it’s pitiful. We can’t compete in the world economy if our children grow up without critical thinking and problem solving skills. Unions make sure the teachers get a fair wage. In these days with college so expensive, coming out of a 5 year teaching program with school loans that will take years and years to pay off and trying to provide for your family is next to impossible. Who in the world would want to be a teacher with that kind of debt hanging over your head? I wouldn’t.

  41. Dave says:

    @ Observer, I agree with you and think we both want much the same thing, which is greater accountability and transparency. I also agree that we need to have have regulatory items in place, to in fact protect us from ourselves so to speak. The system we live in certainly faces it’s challenges, yet I for one would not trade it for any other, as it also provides for great opportunity. I like to recall a line from a favorite film of mine, Jurassic Park, it reads “Yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” That is a fundamental question we all have to ask ourselves every time we make a choice.

    To those who think I am anti-public employee or Union, I humbly apologize if I appear so. I simply think we should all have a choice, as employees and employers. Unions still have their place and are a valuable part of the employment landscape. Having said that, so is the right to choose and vote. And in the case of Wisconsin, whether you agree with the legislation or not, the foundation of democracy and the Republic we live in is elected officials to vote to represent their constiutents. If in fact the majority of people want that legislation enacted and are represented by their elected officals, then it should pass accordingly. And the failure to meet their civic obligation by those public officals who oppose the legistlation is disheartening and a sad development. It rocks the very core of the system as a whole, and yes it is that same system which provides for representation such as Unions as well. I hope for a resolution that makes sense for all parties involved. I am not saying I agree or disagree with the legistlation, but I am dismayed at the breakdown in the political system.

    Finally, I am appreciative of those individuals who work in the public sector. In some ways it is and can be a thankless job. We all clamor for those services and yet complain about them at the same time. I simply want more transparency for our dollars spent. As a taxpayer and the ultimate employer for those services I would like to see accountability and more efficient use of those dollars used. I don’t think that is an unreasonable request. And my thanks to those men and women in those positions for your hard work, it is in fact appreciated.

  42. TheObserver says:

    @ mockingbird:

    Thanks for the clarification. The only problem is, that if a union donates to a candidate, it is acting like a corporation. Both expect favors, access, etc. as a result of their financial support. And so, nothing improves.

    It is true, the Supreme Court gave corporations the right to make direct donations to candidates…a very BAD thing indeed.

    The Supreme Court has always held that the Corporation has the same rights as a human being and this is patently absurd. It leads to things like the protection of lobbying and its attendant money under free speech.

    Corporations are not human…they should have very few rights. Corporations were not mentioned in The Consitution.

    Corporations, in fact all organizations tend to be dehumanizing in general. I mean, read Dilbert, or watch the movie Office Space to see how we try to laugh at what is really a dire situation.

    TheObserver has never understood why the law takes this stance. It makes absolutely no sense. It smacks of “rigging the game.”

  43. TheObserver says:

    @ John:

    TheObserver would LOVE to eliminate all political donations from unions and corporations. TheObserver would also like to eliminate Lobbying so that elected officials would be forced to listen to their constituents instead of special interests.

  44. TheObserver says:


    Thank you for your thoughtful reply. You are correct, deregulation is not the only culprit. It is certainly more complex than that.

    But the freedom that deregulation gave banks and businesses to speculate and place risky bets, to hide risk from investors with off balance sheet items, to avoid taxes, and to expose the population to predatory advertising and financial disaster is a major reason why speculative bubbles keep coming.

    You are also correct IMO that individuals can be very irresponsible.

    But you know, the population has been so embued with the myth of home ownership as the foundation of the American Dream, that it is hard to resist. It is such a powerful archetype. If a bank tells you that you can own a home with no money down, you might tend to do it and hope for the best. It’s called betting on the come, which is something business does all the time.

    As for the management issue…I agree, the more objective metrics you can use to measure performance, the less chance there is for personality to enter into the employee/manager equation (Edwards Deming was the king of using statistics to produce continuous improvement).

    Again, though, we all know that metrics and numbers can be manipulated to express almost anything…just ask an accountant, or Edwards Deming (well you can’t ask him because he’s no longer with us, but if he were…).

  45. Mockingbird says:

    In response to those of you who think that union dues are “extortion”, as a union member I beg to differ. The union provides a service for us workers. We need to pay them for those services. Many, who don’t pay into their union, benefit from the union working on their behalf. Union dues are the price of being represented.

    Second of all, for those of you who think union dues are used for political purposes and “bankrolls” candidates let me tell you how it really works. Union workers can contribute to a special political fund and it is VOLUNTARY. UNION DUES CANNOT BE USED FOR POLITICAL PURPOSES BY LAW. The money in this COPE fund is used for all kinds of political purposes. The money that can be contributed directly to a candidate is limited by law. But unions can send out pamphlets and run ads. Please remember, the Supreme Court gave big corporate interests the right to do the same. These corporate interests do not have to list their names so you all have NO CLUE who is behind the financing. When you go to their website you get NO information. Unions ALWAYS put their proud names on their information so you know who are behind the ads.

    I read so much misinformation in the letters to the editor.

  46. Dave says:

    @TheObserver, first, it is folly to simply shift accountability and culpability to from one place to another. There is much of it to go around. Simply pointing at the repeal of Glass-Steagal (which I agree carries some of the weight) and the re-writing of the CRA (which I also concur was a part of the issue) as the sole issues that led to the crash of the economy would fail to hold accountable those individuals that lived far beyond their means, those in the advertising world and media that pushed the envelope for bigger, better, fater and more and the penchant of many to \keep up with the Jonses\. One of the greatest things about being human is also one of the greatest downfalls, and that is freewill, the ability to reason and choose. Just because someone or something says you can do it, there still has to be that voice of reason that asks, should I do it? Too often over the past 10-20 years, that voice of reason said \yes\, when it should have been tempered with \no\.

    Further, when I addressed accountability for jobs being done you brought up evaluation and performance review. I agree with you that many times this is subjective and not objective. The great challenge is trying to be completely subjective and quantitative in performance review. But I think we can also agree that in many lines of work, much of the job can be quantitatively measured, regardless of any subjective \like\ or \dislike\ of a person, especially in the public sector. My example of streetlight replacement illustrates this well. I would say most of us would like them replaced in a timely manner, and for the sake of arguement, only when the buld has gone out. Can it be measured the amount of time it takes to change one street lamp, including travel time? Absolutely, even if a ballast needs changed, or wiring needs to be re-worked. I am sure logs can be kept on each lightpost, noting condition of the wiring, ballast, etc. And can this be spot checked by a supervisor for measurement purposes, absolutely. My point is that in this case it is very easy to be objective in this case, same with say, city water district, steet maintainence, etc. And I have on good authority that there are many who work in those positions who feel entitled, and work far less hard than they could. Am I saying that a private sector employees are not susceptible to this as well? Absolutely not, and I am NOT saying that this is true across the board, but when you are talking taxpayer dollars, then there must be more accountability, as these services that are provided are not in any way revenue producers, they are funded by the community at large, which is why the accountability is needed.

    Finally, Unions. I am not fundamentally opposed to them. My degree is in History and they have in fact had their uses, providing much good to the American workforce. However; I also firmly believe there are many organizations now in place that serve much the same function, and that whether to be a part of a union, or to hire union workers should be a choice, for both employees and employers. This nation was founded on ideas of Freedom, Liberty and the right to choose. Let’s keep it that way.

  47. Mockingbird says:

    Judging from the above posts the Wallstreet propaganda has we middleclass biting each other in the backside instead of focusing on what they did. Big financial is to blame. They gambled with our money and are STILL up to their old tricks even after crashing our economy. There has been an attack on the middleclass and union busting since Reagan was President.

    Public workers are not to blame. Pensions and benefits ARE IN LIEU OF CASH. If you really check the figures for CA public workers, who tend to be a highly educated bunch by the way, you will see that salaries remained low because benefits and pensions were given. The public workers provide a SERVICE FOR YOU and should be compensated for their work. Instead of fighting us, you should be fighting for your right to have a defined pension and benefits. That’s what unions do. They protect not just union workers but set the standards for all workers which include wages, pensions, benefits, rights, 40hr workweek, child labor laws, safe working environments and so on. All you workers benefitted and benefit from the work unions do.

    So give we public workers a break. Next time you need a death or birth certificate, need building permits, your roads repaired, mental health services, police or fire services and so on, think about the fact that we are working people just like you.

  48. John says:

    It sounds like a civics lesson is needed. Unions are not the only donors to Politics. Corporations (who would love to pay employees less and boost their profits & bonuses)also donate giant amounts of money to steer the direction of government regulation and spending. If your suggestion is to eliminate political donations then you must do it for EVERYONE, not just one group.

    Unions provide a balance to corporations power. If you really want to help solve the problem buy only products Made in the USA (not China, India, Mexico, etc…)

  49. TheObserver says:

    @ Don Martin:

    Your suggestions to make striking illegal and to repeal collective bargaining rights is the pure voice of capital. Based on your post, TheObserver assumes you are wealthy.

    Your wish to enslave employees who are union members by stripping them of all their rights is one of the capitalist fantasies that pervade the ultra-right wing.

    TheObserver is a critic of unions because they have overstepped the scope of their charters and poked into places the ought not to be. For example, TheObserver agrees with you that union financial support for candidates to elected office should not be allowed. Cozyness between elected officials/management and union leaders is very harmful because it eliminates the necessary adversarial element in the relationship and tends to cause different forms of corruption on both sides.

    However, the truth is that if it weren’t for unions the average worker would be at the mercy of management and capital.

    In our own nation’s history, owners of capital have actually killed employees who complained, protested or struck. If unions were disolved or made illegal, brutality would again be used against the workforce.

    Please remember that workers are the actual source of the prosperity management enjoys. But they are also humans who have rights on the job or off the job.

  50. BigDogatPlay says:

    How typical…. blame Bush. That’s the best two professors who likely have more degrees than a thermometer can come up with? Everything would be fine if the economy wasn’t wrecked.

    So professors…. just who was it that wrecked the economy in the first place? Even if we were to buy into the blame Bush argument, it was the government that wrecked it. That fact is completely indisputable.

    The situation we find ourselves in with public employee compensation and benefits across California and in many other states is the direct result of money and politics:

    ** Public employee unions are allowed to extort dues from public employees, whether the employee wants to belong to the union or not.

    ** The unions use those moneys to bankroll the campaigns of politicians sympathetic to the union cause.

    ** Once elected those politicians sympathetic to the union cause are who the unions negotiate with in collective bargaining.

    ** The same sympathetic politicians approve additional public employee headcount in massive numbers, with or (often) without justification, so as to keep the gravy train running and further enriching the unions.

    ** The more public employees, the more dues that can be extorted, and the cycle continues.

    Reform public employment…. now! I say this as a former public employee, who is married to a former public employee. We’ve seen it from the inside and public employees do not need unions to protect their jobs, nor do they need collective bargaining…. particularly when that bargaining has such a massive conflict of interest at it’s core.

  51. Candi Cane says:

    Don’t blame the public employees. Blame it on the ability of public unions to give money to lobby politicians.

    The politicians are supposed to “mind the store” and look after their constituents.

    Instead, the politicians give benefits to the public employees and the citizens are stuck with the consequences.

    Vile vile vile.

    We’re so screwed!

  52. Luke says:

    Here are some pension facts:

    1) Fact: An average 30 year public employee who retires today draws a starting Calpers pension of $67,000 a year.

    2) California currently spends $4 billion a year subsidizing Calpers because the Calpers investment portfolio is off by 25%.

    3) Calpers faces unfunded liabilities of nearly $240 billion.




  53. Beef King says:

    I read the blather from the retired ‘liberal’ professors, and I can say definitively that I still blame Union thuggery and political corruption for the mess we are in.
    Our Socialist Experiment has failed thus far, largely due to Union Corruption.
    No amount of twisted logic will change the fact there is an inherent conflict in public servants having collective bargaining rights that result in unsustainable pensions.

  54. Originalist says:

    Dont blame the taxpayers who cut all state pension bennies, require all state retirees to obtain their own health care, require all police and fire to pay into their retirement 401Ks and for their healthcare.

    Dont blame the taxpayer for being sick of the SEIU buying state and local politicians!

  55. Originalist says:

    How is when CALPERS makes bad investments and losses money, the civil servants retirement amount isnt reduced just as all other Americans? We all lost money in our retirement accounts, however, the taxpayers dont give us what we lost as they do for Calpers!

  56. NOTUTOO says:

    This all reminds me of the great global warming scare of 2002-2010. Aren’t we all supposed to be underwater by now?

    Here are some pension facts;

    1. Fact:
    The average CalPERS pension is about $25,000 per year. Half of CalPERS retirees receive $16,000 per year or less in benefits. Unlike the private sector, many CalPERS members do not receive Social Security, making their CalPERS pension their sole source of pension income, other than savings.

    2.Investment earnings pay the majority of the costs of public pensions. For every dollar paid in pensions, 64 cents comes from investments.

    3. CalPERS began putting away money for the baby boomers the day they first came to work for government. CalPERS plans are prefunded and contributions are received in every year that members accrue their benefits. The retirement of baby boomers has already been reflected in the rates using actuarial assumptions. The money needed to pay benefits for retirees is expected to be there when workers retire. CalPERS is expected to be able to keep up with baby boomers retirements and the expected increase in benefit payments.

    4. Forty-one percent of the State general fund budget is earmarked for public education, 12 percent for higher education, and 10 percent for corrections. The cost of pensions is about 2.5 percent of total State spending.

    5.Retirement benefits are paid from the CalPERS pension fund, which is a trust fund that can be used only for payment of member benefits and related expenses. Historically, almost 75 cents of every dollar paid in pensions come from investment returns, not tax dollars.


  57. Don Martin says:

    Some who have commented have ask for specifics to resolve the public pension and wage abuses we read about everyday.

    Well here are some ways this crisis can and should be resolved.

    a. Repeal the Meyers Millis-Brown Act which granted collective bargaining rights to California public employees.

    b. Return to the civil service system used by California local and state government for many years.

    c. Eliminate the overtime work rules which create overtime not by need, but by rule, enjoyed by too many public sector employees. Example, when the boss takes a leave, everyone below moves up and receives extra overtime pay.

    d. Eliminate the layoff rules which prevent public agencies including school districts from getting rid of poor performers.

    e. Overhaul the PERS pension system and stop paying for retirements at age 50 at full or nearly full pay.

    f. Make it illegal for public employees to strike with real penalties.

    g. Make it illegal for public unions to make political contributions to local and state politicans and political parties in California.

    These changes would have a cleansing effect on our politics in California and begin to correct the public and pension crisis which has been building for 40+ years in this state.

  58. Mike says:

    What a load of claptrap by two old leftys. Who are they kidding? The public sector unions fund, elect and control local and state politicans in California from the lowly city councilman to the esteemed occupant of the governors chair.

    In their world, not all that different from Mr. Charlie Sheen’s world, no one is at fault for the pension crisis and over inflated wages of too many public sector employees currently working and the outrageous retirement benefits paid out to the a large number of recently retired public employees.

    What tiger blood are the good professors drinking? The city councils, boards of supervisors and state legislator did not unalaterally grant these inflated wages and pensions. They were “negotiated” and authorized between the public unions and a group of politicans the unions put in office.

    If the public unions and public employees are not to blame for this crisis who is, the taxpayers footing the bill for all of this? We see union members demonstrating in Madistan not the general taxpaying public.

    Sorry professors, maybe you need to read a little more about labor economics and the history of labor in California since Jerry Brown first authorized collective barginning in California in the heady days of the 1970′s.

  59. nah says:

    Simple solution: end foreign wars and corporate welfare, reinstate income taxes for the upper levels to what they were 15 years ago, you know when the economy is good.

    Of course it will never happen, the Military Industrial Complex and Wall St OWN this country and have bought and paid for its “government”

  60. bear says:

    Like it or not, believe it or not, this editorial is a superb description of the current economy.

    Maybe some have sufficient wealth and are not concerned. The rest of you are fighting and voting for miniscule tax breaks? Or are you just angry? Who is stealing your income and lifestyle?

    Not public employees or their unions.

    Assuming you don’t agree, or don’t believe it, what are the consequences if these authors are right? We’re only talking about the death of the middle class, and the onset of one-party rule and third world status.

    After all, if you outlaw unions at any level, why can’t you outlaw all unions? Why can’t you outlaw opposing political parties?

    If you don’t understand that people died in domestic warfare to give us collective bargaining, you need to read some history. Can you believe that unions saved us from communism? And gave us the job benefits that all now have? If not, you need to read history.

    Not the stuff in books. Try the actual newspaper descriptions. Most newspapers have online archives. Read them.

    Politics were not the same in the past, and newspapers now condemned as “liberal” were VERY different then.

    What do these differences mean, and who is manipulating current circumstances for their own profit?

    Please wake up?

  61. Luke says:

    “According to CalPERS, the average state retiree pension is $25,000 and half of them receive less than $16,000, which they generally spend in the local economy”.

    The author doesn’t mention that this $25,000 figure averages in the pensions of all current retirees, regardless of when they stopped working. It doesn’t separate out those who retired since 1999, when state and local governments started significantly increasing pension benefits for their workers.

    The author also conveniently omitted the average salary & average career duration that was used to calculate this average pension. The fact is that CALPERS data shows the average career public employee, who put in at least 30 years of service, collects a starting pension of $67,000 a year.

  62. Reality Check says:


    As Tom Lehrer put it, “Franco may have won all the battles, but we had all the good folk songs!”

    The political left’s non-contribution to problem solving, or even to focus on the problem, is disappointing.

    But keep on signin’. Some people still like the songs.

  63. TheObserver says:

    @ Dave:

    TheObserver would refer you to a recent New York Times article entitled: “Why Your Boss is Wrong About You.”

    Here is an excerpt from the first few paragraphs:

    “IN the raging battle over union rights in Wisconsin, those seeking to curtail collective bargaining for state employees have advanced an argument that seems hard to resist: It will make it easier to reward those workers who perform the best. What could be fairer than that?

    If only that were true. As anybody who has ever worked in any institution — private or public — knows, one of the primary ways employee effectiveness is judged is the performance review. And nothing could be less fair than that.

    In my years studying such reviews, I’ve learned that they are subjective evaluations that measure how “comfortable” a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results. They are an intimidating tool that makes employees too scared to speak their minds, lest their criticism come back to haunt them in their annual evaluations. They almost guarantee that the owners — whether they be taxpayers or shareholders — will get less bang for their buck.”

    As for your example, TheObserver questions your assumption that the issuer of a contract to replace 50 street lights would fail to include a timeline for completion. If the issuer failes to do this, that’s a management oversite, not a problem for the laborer. Of course, as a laborer, TheObserver would ask for a reasonable timeline to complete such work if management failed to supply one, if for no other reason than to keep an orderly schedule.

  64. Bill Parkhurst says:

    The comments here are better than the story.

  65. TheObserver says:

    @ Reality Check

    The problem here and now is unsolvable in the near term (if it weren’t it would have been solved by now).

    Where are the geniuses we need? Where are the big shot “problem solvers” who can put the power of their awesome minds to this and come up with an “elegant” solution?

    There are none. And so, it will take time and a lot of political process involving new regulation to bring everything back into balance.

  66. Reality Check says:

    Ah, yes, it’s the lack of regulation, repeal of Glass-Steagall, etc., etc. Egads, man, what is the relevance of all that?

    Even if true, so what? How does that solve Sonoma County’s budget problem? Or Santa Rosa’s?

    What is the value of these long-winded ideological rants? At some point the problem of not enough money to balance the budget must be faced: we 1) raise taxes, or 2) cut spending. Blaming Goldman Sachs may feel good, but it won’t balance a budget.

    Now, how about we address the problem in real time in it’s real location? Yeah, I know, rants are more fun.

  67. Dave says:

    As with many other contributors to this post I do not begrudge those who have small pensions, it is in fact the rather large ones that will hamstring the system. I also take issue with the system in that they do not have a functional system is which to dismiss employees who do not meet a standard of work production. In the private sector, especially non-union, a level of performance must be maintained in order to maintain a job, career and benefits. Money is earned as opposed as allocated. Here is what I mean. Let’s say in the private sector you hire a electrician to replace 50 street lights. They bid for the job, then are paid by that job. In order for that electrician to maximize their potential they look to complete that job as fast as possible, to its specifications, and then move to the next paying job. Conversely, when you allocate to a public works, asking that a job being completed, there is very rarely a set time frame for those 50 lights to be done, and no measure for performance and efficiency. It breeds laziness and complacency. And because the employees are union protected, there is no true recourse for the ultimate employer, the taxpayer. Said employee may never make more money than the hourly they earn, but the job for which they are hired fails to be completed timely. In effect, they are costing the taxpayer money for a job poorly done. This happens far to often than not and is just one of many issues facing this going forward. As a taxpayer, we should have far more accountability and transparency as to how those dollars are spent and be able to save our allocated dollars when employees do not live up to their job sepcification.

  68. TheObserver says:

    I ask readers’ pardon in advance for the length of this post.

    Kudos to these authors.

    Lack of regulation is THE problem. Unions, though not perfect, are NOT the primary problem.

    The Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, enacted in the Depression to separate commecial banking from investment banking (non-speculative versus speculative financial activity) was created based on the astounding human suffering caused by the Crash of 1929 and subsequent Great Depression. This key regulation was dismanteled under Bill Clinton’s watch (President Bill was a great friend of business – in TheObserver’s opinion, not a great president). More regulation was removed under Bush II (obviously a friend of business – and a very bad president IMHO).

    Neither of these presidents appeared to believe that speculative financial activity must be controlled. But it must. Why? Because financial technicians with nearly unfettered financial incentive and minimum risk (taxpayer bailouts and backing) will always game the system.

    In the absence of regulation, the system always gets sick eventually and bubbles are created and burst, harming everyone.

    There appears to be a fundamental lack of insight into human nature among politicians, some of whom believe that, given unrestricted access to profit, industrial leaders and financial engineers will create jobs, plow money into causes and research and generally behave in a benevolent fashion. Nothing could be farther from the truth. There is no invisible hand of Adam Smith.

    The past decade has seen a tech bubble, the Enron debacle, and the housing bubble. This trifecta of financial disaster is the manifestation of deregulation. Ask former SEC Chairman Arthur Levitt and his former Chief Accountant Lynn Turner. These men were the last of the strong regulators. They understood human nature.

    TheObserver does not care whether you are a minister, a politician, an academic, a cop, a regulator, a hedonist, an ethicist, a pacifist, Republican, Democrat or a progressive…when no one is looking, you will do the wrong thing. Why? Because you are human.

    This is not to say that human nature is bad, but rather that it is simply not trustworthy and must be regulated. There is no value judgement here…just plain observation and logic. Human nature tends to greed and excess. Even the founding Fathers of this nation acknowledged that. They established three braches of government to check and balance each other.

    So, it’s okay that we are the way we are. It’s not evil, it just is. Our greed, addictions, appetites, and our needs arise from the fact that we are sentient individual beings, alone in sacks of skin. We fear things. We need warmth and shelter, food and healthcare. It is frightening not to have these things and yet, capital compels us to compete for them and will turn an uncompassionate eye to those who struggle to survive.

    In a capitalist society, where competition is exaulted, the rich (the strong) tend to stockpile cash and comforts and then defend those privileges with all kinds of violence and crime. This is natural selection and survival of the fittest – the ethics of the jungle.

    Our society has gone through some positive cycles in which elements of socialism were introduced and ran side-by-side with free enterprise. FDR’s New Deal and Johnson’s Great Society provided a reasonable and balanced infrastructure for care of the unproductive.

    We have abandoned this hybrid society and the result is financial ruin and poverty.

    The role of unions
    Unions protect those who are vulnerable from the raw, brutal interests of capital. In the absence of reglation, unions are the last and only shield against the violence of capital.

    However, there are cases where even unions become part of the capital problem. Their leaders are human as well and given the right circumstances, will do the wrong thing. They get greedy, and power hungry, and employ some of the same brutal tactics used by capital. In doing these things, they compromise their integrity and abandon their mission. And yet, they are all the average worker has in 2011 America because regulation is weak.

    TheObserver’s suggestion for unions is this: Instead of trying to control the politics of local situations through byzantine machinations, unions should instead apply their tremendous resources to lobby for heavy regulation of those industries that are too crucial to be allowed to be shaped by so-called “market forces.”

    New regulation should be imposed on banking, energy, insurance, big pharma, agriculture, life sciences, and other key businesses that people can’t live without.

    Capital is suspicious – and sometimes antagonistic – toward the unproductive in our society. Children, the elderly, and the disabled are viewed as cost centers. Capital will put all these groups to work for peanuts in the absence of regulation and social safety nets to protect them.

    If capital had its way, American children would labor in sweatshops. The elderly will continue to work at Wal-Mart and McDonalds for minimum wage, and any disabled person who can work would be put to work by capital for significantly less than the market will bear for the able bodied.

    Unions – take a significant portion of the dues money you waste on local politicians and local intrigue and give it to first rate, idealistic lobbyists in Washington DC, Sacramento, and other state capitols. Give them orders to relentlessly hammer away until California and the nation is again reasonably re-regulated. And then take a bow and the credit you would so richly deserve for doing this service for the rest of us.

  69. Joker's Wild says:

    @Concerned Taxpayer

    You forgot to mention the TRILLIONS spent on foreign wars, mostly to line the pockets of Daddy Warbucks, (ie Bush and Cheney cronies).

    But please, let us return to the rant against public employees, specifically that small sector which gets to retire at 50ish and collect BIG checks.

    Like the mayor of Santa Rosa.

  70. Reality Check says:

    As Willy Sutton answered to the question of why he robbed banks, “That’s where the money is.”

    As the above writers must surely know, the largest part of any local government general fund budget is employee compensation. Trying to balance a budget without taking on its largest part isn’t a serious undertaking.

    This isn’t about blaming anyone. The blame-game won’t balance a budget. Beard and White are diverting attention and playing politics.

    Note, their article offered not a single proposal to address the problem.

  71. GAJ says:

    The current crisis is not primarily caused by the looming pension bubble, but the next, even bigger financial crisis, certainly will be.

    I guess then these two disagree with the Little Hoover Commission’s analysis of California’s troubled public pension systems and think we should “stay the course” like the Captain of the Titanic did:

    “The 106-page report, released by the nonpartisan watchdog panel, includes a detailed history of public pensions, a clear explanation of why the costs are spinning out of control, graphs showing the alarming magnitude of funding shortfalls for the state’s largest pension funds and a reform plan that combines pensions, savings and Social Security to ensure a sustainable and affordable retirement system for state and local employees.

    Failing to fix the system will only mean more cuts in services and more layoffs at public agencies, which the commission sees as the primary incentive for employees to accept changes, “Doing nothing to current pension obligations will cost public employees everything,” the report points out. “A pension cannot grow without a job attached to it.”

    The Little Hoover Commission report also reinforces the unreconcilable conflict between longer life expectancies and earlier retirement dates, complicated by pensions that approach or exceed the working salaries of retired employees, seemingly absolving them from saving for retirement during their working careers. And, using CalPERS data, the panel reports that the number of retirees receiving $100,000 a year or more has grown 230 percent in five years, while the number of retirements increased 17 percent in the same time period.

    “The math is inexorable,” the commission said. “More people are retiring, and more of them are retiring at higher pension levels, and the number of those who are retiring with pensions above $100,000 is increasing by the fastest amount.”


  72. Skippy says:

    Wishing won’t make it so, Profs.
    We remember well the scurilous machinations of Frank and Dodd that ignored the leak until the dam broke.
    Sadly for the pro-Govt. lobby, the piggybank is broken and all the coins have rolled away.
    At last, due to the unavoidable bankruptcy of socialism, the era of Big Govt. is coming to an end.
    And not a moment too soon!
    By the way, do you two geniuses have Govt. pensions?

  73. Michael Sheehan says:

    Typical, expected bias from 2 seemingly left-wing SSU professors. Gee, what a surprise.

    1) Public employees are NOT being blamed for causing the current crisis, although salaries and pensions are part of the government’s overspending problem. Most fair-minded people would not begrudge a $25,000 annual public pension, but they are outraged by the $200,000 to $400,000 variety.

    2) The article completely ignores the Federal government’s huge, dim-witted role in fostering Wall Street scam artists – through the Community Reinvestment Act – that, in effect, threatened banks that did not provide more high-risk loans to low-income people and minorities. By lowering qualification standards that resulted in “liar loans” and the obscene, nonsensical 1% mortgages and other absurd instruments, the balloon was created and the crisis followed. It has been reported widely that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were warned 17 times by the previous administration that a crisis was imminent, but the warnings were ignored.

    The article would have been more credible if the whole story was told. As it is written, the White-Beard version version of reality is a fairy tale.

  74. Concerned Taxpayer says:

    What Mr. beard and White fail to mention is that government spending over the last 10 years rose faster than revenue, largely on worker salaries and benefits. The unions were not thinking of the future when they fought for an ever bigger portion of an unsustainable pie. Now that the economy is in recession, they want only the private sector to bear the brunt, not only for themselves, but to pay for shortfalls in the public workers pension system also. There is talk that public workers accepted lower wages for better benefits, yet wages fro public workers did not fall further behind the private sector than 10 years ago, so this is a fallacy. We now have the situation that taxpayers can’t fund their kids school, their own retirement, or hope to retire before 65+, while public workers wna tthose same taxpayers to make up the shortfalls caused by the banks and speculators and bag government stewardship of finances, so they can retire as young as 50, get a second job while drwing a pension that is often mroe than a private secotr employee earns. You may call it \pesion envy\, I call it social fairness. Don’t give me your pension bills, or take out bonds and shove your largess onto my kids backs.