by Jon Coupal | Sacramento

A recent political cartoon showed an obese pig (representing unions)  gorging itself on food. He is speaking to a skeleton, (representing  taxpayers) and saying, “All you need to do is tighten your belt.”  That  pretty much sums up the way things are in California.  Public employee  unions are riding roughshod over taxpayers who, from the perspective of  the unions, are nothing more than birds to be plucked.

In California, many political outcomes are determined in advance because  the game is rigged. Because unions effectively negotiate their fat  contracts with themselves (government) the process of collective  bargaining has been turned on its head.  As in Las Vegas, the house  always ends up the winner.

Bargaining with yourself works out well, right up until the point when  the private sector can no longer afford these extravagant demands.  Then  your government benefactors become your enemies.  Data gathered from  the Franchise Tax Board and Board of Equalization shows that it takes 25  taxpayers making the average private sector salary of $55,000 to fund  the average state employee who makes $90,000, including benefits.  With  12.6% unemployment rate and $20 billion budget deficit, the  unsustainability of this situation is self evident.

A new front has been opened in the battle over excessive union influence  and it is being fought locally. In 2008, the City of Vallejo filed for  bankruptcy seeking to get out from under massive debt and pension  obligations it could no longer afford.  Rather than work with local  governments to help municipalities maintain solvency, unions are  attempting a brazen power play that strips away municipality budgeting  control and is the clearest example yet of unions utter failure to  recognize the plight of taxpayers in our struggling economy.

Union backed Assembly Bill 155 (Assemblyman Tony Mendoza) AB 155 says  that a state agency, the California Debt and Investment Advisory  Commission (CDIAC) would have to first approve any municipal bankruptcy  filing, despite having no expertise in bankruptcy law.  The Commission  could also mandate that labor contracts be kept whole as a condition of  approving a filing. The result will be yet another unelected state  government agency dictating fiscal policy to local government.

AB 155 is a very big deal to the unions and they have pulled out all the  stops to jam it through the Legislature.  The bill was originally held  and stopped in the Senate Local Government committee last year because  the swing Democrat vote, Lois Wolk, refused to ignore the broader public  interest.  For this, she was removed from the committee by the union  controlled Senate leader, Darrell Steinberg, and replaced by Mark  DeSaulnier who authored the same bill last year. This switch guaranteed  the passage of AB 155, and its likely transition to the Governor’s desk.

Of course, part of the blame for all this must also fall on local  governments who  willingly acquiesced in giving these inflated  compensation packages despite repeated warnings from taxpayer groups for  more than two decades.

To be clear, municipal bankruptcies should be avoided because the long  term fallout to communities can be severe.  But local governments must  be able to control their finances and access to all the tools necessary  to restore their fiscal health. By eliminating an effective management  tool, AB 155 will severely curtail the ability of cities, counties, and  special districts to provide basic services to their residents. If the  choice is between that and voiding a fiscally bankrupting union  contract, we’ll take the former every time. CRO

copyright 2010 Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association

Jon Coupal is an attorney and president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest taxpayer organization with offices in Los Angeles and Sacramento.

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