On September 9th the Contra Costa Times ran an editorial denouncing Prop. 32, a California citizen’s initiative that will appear on the state ballot in November, joining their sister publication the San Jose Mercury to call it a “scam” (ref. “Proposition 32 is deceptive and should be rejected“).

The Contra Costa Times editorial staff provides this quote as a justification for their position: “According to data compiled by the Center for Investigative Reporting and analyzed by San Francisco State professor John Logan, the top labor unions [only] spent $284 million on initiatives, candidates and parties from 2001 to 2011.”

This is ridiculously inaccurate. The public employee unions spent well over $200 million in the Fall of 2005 to defeat Gov. Schwarzenegger’s four reform initiatives; they spent over $60 million of that just to defeat Prop. 75, which had similarities to Prop. 32 but wasn’t as balanced. This year, the public employee unions have already raised nearly $40 million to defeat Prop. 32.

Not only is the Contra Costa Times editorial’s “fact” on public employee union spending obviously grossly understated, but it presumably is only referring to state election spending, whereas the bulk of public sector union spending is at the local level, where, collectively, over $300 billion per year of local agency budgets are controlled by city councilmembers, county supervisors, and agency commissioners. Often for these relatively minor political positions there are hundreds of millions, if not billions, in taxpayer money being allocated – and the public employee union members are often the only candidates.

Public sector unions in California collect over $1.0 BILLION per year in dues. It strains credulity to suggest they don’t use at least one-third of that money to pursue their political agenda (i.e., over $300 million per year!) – as if everything a public sector union does isn’t political either directly or indirectly (ref. “California Public Sector Union Revenue Exceeds $1.0 Billion Per Year“).

It is depressing to witness such sloppy reporting occurring, especially in the Bay Area newspapers, when the results of public employee union control – that’s right, control – of California’s cities and counties and local agencies has lead to grossly overpaid public servants whose compensation packages are literally bankrupting city after city. (ref. “Average Total Compensation for San Jose City Worker is $175,000 Per Year,” and “Average Total Compensation for Anaheim City Worker is $175,000 Per Year).

Which corporations and rich people, exactly, do the Contra Costa Times actually think are opposing these unions? Most of them are in detente with the unions, if not in outright collusion. Corporations pass on the higher taxes to consumers, and use over-regulation to strengthen their monopoly control over their respective sectors, since small emerging companies always have much more difficulty complying with over-regulation. Rich people generally don’t want trouble with unions representing the very officials who inspect their property and audit their taxes.

The biggest lie of all is the union shibboleth regarding “Wall Street” and “hedge funds” supporting Prop. 32, and by extension, the entire cabal of “right wing extremists” supposedly behind it. The fact is the financial community is overwhelmingly opposed to Prop. 32 because if the political influence of public sector unions is diminished, pension reform would accelerate – and there is no source of guaranteed money flowing into Wall Street brokerages that begins to match the pension fund investments – all from taxpayers.

In general, the banking sector and public sector unions are in a direct alliance, one they mask with phony expressions of mutual disdain. Because when unions demand over-market compensation and benefits, creating deficits, Wall Street delivers the loans. When unions demand excessive pensions, Wall Street invests the funds. When the investments don’t hit that fraudulently over-optimistic 7.5%, unions apply pressure to politicians to raise taxes to cover the difference.

It was a Contra Costa Times reporter, Daniel Borenstein, who exposed the misleading statistic promulgated by unions and pension bankers alike, suggesting the average pension was only $25,000 per year, when the reality today is if a public employee retires after 30 years of work their average pension is nearly $70,000 per year. That sort of reporting does a public service. This simpleminded editorial attack on Prop. 32 does nothing of the sort.

Public sector unions should have to ask for their donations on an opt-in basis. To attack Prop. 32’s attempt to enforce such a basic principle of fairness undermines one of the last opportunities for Californians to rescue their state from an alliance of government workers, powerful financial elites, and crony capitalists who care little for the average private sector worker.

One wealthy Democrat once explained to me his party identity this way – “why be a Republican, we’ve already got them.” Ultimately, what the Contra Costa Times ignores is this: Political spending by corporations and wealthy people benefits diverse ideologies and both major parties with suprising balance. Political spending by government unions, on the other hand, is monolithic and pragmatic, exclusively focused on fulfilling an agenda that is going to bankrupt government. Moreover, the agenda of public sector unions is synergistic with the agenda of the most predatory elements of the financial sector, and is rarely opposed by reformers in any truly significant way.

One Response to Contra Costa Times Editorial Calls State Ballot Prop. 32 a “Scam”

  1. Milan Moravec says:

    Let’s review how Cal senior management handled the tax dollars it currently gets. Nobody’s perfect, but some higher education chancellors are much less perfect as stewards of public funds than others. University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($450,000) Provost Breslauer ($306,000) have forgotten they are steward’s of public money, not overseer of their own fiefdoms.

    Cal tuition triples last decade, Californians income went stagnant. Birgeneau, Provost Breslauer do not have a grip on financial realities. Pay ex Michigan governor $300,000 for lectures. Tuition increases exceed national average rate of increase. University accrues $150 million of inefficiencies over last 8 years. Recruits foreign students who pay $50,600 and displace qualified Californians.

    Spends $7,000,000 + for OE consultants to do the work of senior Cal. management. (Prominent East Coast University accomplishes same, 0 costs). In procuring $7,000,000 consultants failed to receive proposals from other firms (Consultants do their thinking for them, who they then can blame for all unpopular but necessary decisions)

    Best in nation rank: # 70 Forbes.
    World Academic rank: Falls with 29% increase in salaries. Below top ten QS ranking
    Tuition to Return on Investment drops below top 10.

    Cal now is most expensive public university for in-state students.

    Organizational Effectiveness (OE): Birgeneau Breslauer prevent OE from examining Chancellor’s, Provost’s operations for inefficiencies

    It’s all shameful. There is no justification for such irregularities by stewards of the public trust. If Chancellor, Provost don’t understand financial stewardship they have no business being Cal. senior management.

    Chancellor Birgeneau’s self-indulgent practices continue onto violence against students protesting his doubling of instate tuition. University of California Board of Regents Chair Sherry Lansing must vigorously enforce oversight of Cal. Only then will confidence of Alumni, donors, legislators, Californians return.

    (My agenda is transparency. I have 35 years’ consulting experience; have taught at UC Berkeley, where I observed the culture & the way senior management works. No, I was not fired or downsized & have not solicited contracts from UC/Cal).

    Yours is the opinion that can make the difference, email UC Board of Regents: marsha.kelman@ucop.edu

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