Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

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Politics

California's Civil Servants Draw a New, Severe and Surprising Critic

As Julie, Peter and I have mentioned on NLT before, I've recently written two articles about the cascading failures of self-government in California, emphasizing the important and lamentable role played by public employee unions in the state's decline.  Ross Douthat of The New York Times recently said that liberals have their own narrative, in which the passage of Proposition 13 in June 1978 is the senseless, tragic blunder that guaranteed the state's doom.  It's a thesis with many adherents, including Douthat's colleague Paul Krugman and an overwhelming majority of the people who commented in response to Douthat's blog post.

One prominent liberal who does not think the power and compensation of California's public employees is a small part of the state's problems is Willie Brown, who was the powerful and prominent speaker of the General Assembly (the lower house of the legislature) before taking a victory lap as mayor of San Francisco.  He spent his long political career out-maneuvering, defeating and infuriating the state's Republicans.

Brown now writes for The San Francisco Chronicle, where he got the New Year off to an interesting start yesterday by assigning most of the blame for the state's fiscal crisis to its workers:

The [state's civil service] system was set up so politicians like me couldn't come in and fire the people (relatives) hired by the guy they beat and replace them with their own friends and relatives.

Over the years, however, the civil service system has changed from one that protects jobs to one that runs the show.

The deal used to be that civil servants were paid less than private sector workers in exchange for an understanding that they had job security for life.

But we politicians, pushed by our friends in labor, gradually expanded pay and benefits to private-sector levels while keeping the job protections and layering on incredibly generous retirement packages that pay ex-workers almost as much as current workers.

Talking about this is politically unpopular and potentially even career suicide for most officeholders. But at some point, someone is going to have to get honest about the fact that 80 percent of the state, county and city budget deficits are due to employee costs.

Either we do something about it at the ballot box, or a judge will do something about in Bankruptcy Court.

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