How Much More Will Cities and Counties Pay CalPERS?

Calpers headquarters is seen in Sacramento, California, October 21, 2009. REUTERS/Max Whittaker

When speaking about pension burdens on California’s cities and counties, a perennial question is how much are the costs going to increase? In recent years, California’s biggest pension system, CalPERS, has offered “Public Agency Actuarial Valuation Reports” that purport to answer that question. Notwithstanding the fact that CalPERS predictive credibility is questionable – i.e., they’ve gotten it wrong before – these reports are quite useful. Before delving into them, it is reasonable to assert that what is presented here, using CalPERS data, are best case scenarios.

In partnership with researchers at the Reason Foundation, the California Policy Center has compiled the data for every agency client of CalPERS, including 427 cities and 36 counties. In this summary, that data has been distilled to present two sets of numbers – payments to CalPERS for the 2017-2018 fiscal year, and officially estimated payments to CalPERS in the 2024-25 fiscal year. In calculating these results, the only assumption we made (apart from the assumptions made by CalPERS), was for estimated payroll costs in 2024. We used a 3% annual growth rate for payroll expenses, the rate most commonly used in official actuarial analyses on this topic.

So how much more will cities and counties have to pay CalPERS between now and 2024? How much more will pensions cost, six years from now?

On the table below, we provide information for the 20 cities that are going to be hit the hardest by pension cost increases. To view this same information for all cities and counties that participate in the CalPERS system, download the spreadsheet “CalPERS Actuarial Report Data – Cities and Counties.”

CalPERS Actuarial Report Data
The Twenty California Cities With the Highest Pension Burden ($=M)

Payments to CalPERS

If you are a local elected official, or if you are an activist, journalist, or anyone else with a keen interest in pensions, these tables merit close scrutiny. Because they not only show costs estimates today, and seven years from now, but they break these costs into two very distinct areas – the so-called “normal” costs, which are how much employers have to pay into the pension fund for current workers who are vesting one more year of future benefits, and the “catch-up” costs, which are what CalPERS charges employers whose pension plan is underfunded.

Take the first city listed, Millbrae. By 2024, we predict Millbrae will have the highest total pension payments of any city in California that belongs to the CalPERS system.

The table presents are two blocks of data – the set of columns on the left show current costs for pensions, and the set of columns on the right show the predicted cost for pensions. In all cases, the cost in millions is shown, along with the cost in terms of percent of total payroll.

Currently, as can be seen on the table, for every dollar it pays active employees in base wages, Millbrae must contribute 59 cents to CalPERS. This does not include payments to CalPERS that Millbrae collects from its employees via withholding. The same data show that, by 2024, for every dollar Millbrae pays active employees in base wages, they will have to contribute 89 cents to CalPERS. Put another way, while Millbrae may expect its payroll costs to increase by $1.4 million, from $6.3 million today to $7.7 million in six years, their payment to CalPERS will increase by $3.1 million, from $3.7 million today to $6.8 million in 2024.

But here’s the rub. Nearly all of this increase to Millbrae’s pension costs are the “catch-up” payments on the city’s unfunded liability. In just six years Millbrae’s payment on its unfunded liability will increase by 99%, from $2.9 million today to $5.8 million in 2024.

Why?

What are the implications?

It is difficult to overstate how outrageous this is. Here’s a list:

1 – Virtually every pension “reform” over the past decade or so has exempted active public employees from helping to pay down the unfunded liability via withholding. Instead, their increased withholding – in some cases supposedly rising to “fifty percent of pension costs” (the PEPRA reforms) – only apply to the normal contribution.

2 – In order to appease the unions who, quite understandably, lobby for the lowest possible employee contributions to pension funds, the “normal cost” is calculated based on financially optimistic projections. The less time an actuary predicts a retiree will live, and the more an actuary predicts investments will earn, the lower the normal contribution.

3 – In order to cajole local elected officials to agree to pension benefit enhancements, the same overly optimistic, misleading projections were provided, duping decision makers into thinking pension contributions would never become a significant burden on cities and counties, and by extension, taxpayers.

4 – Because cities and counties couldn’t afford to pay down the growing unfunded liabilities attached to their pension plans, tricky accounting gimmicks were employed, where minimal catch-up payments were made in the present in exchange for bigger catch-up payments in the future. The closest financial analogy to what they did would be the “negative amortization” mortgages that were popular prior to the housing crash of 2008.

5 – The consequence of this chicanery is that today, as can be seen, catch-up payments on the unfunded liability are typically two to three times greater than the normal contribution. And it’s getting worse. In 2024, Millbrae, for example, will have a catch-up contribution that is nearly six times as much as their normal contribution.

6 – When a normal contribution isn’t enough, and the plan becomes underfunded, the level of underfunding is compounded every year because there isn’t enough money in the fund earning interest. The longer catch-up payments are deferred, the worse the situation gets.

Yet the normal contribution has always been represented as all that should be required for pension plans to remain fully funded. Just how bad it has gotten can be clearly seen on the table.

Take a look at Pacific Grove, fourth on the list of CalPERS cities with the highest pension burden. Pacific Grove is already paying 40 cents to CalPERS for every dollar it pays to its active employees. But in six years, that amount will go up to 75 cents to CalPERS per dollar of salary to active employees. And take a look at where the increase comes from: Their catch-up payment goes from 1.7 million to $4.4 million in just six years.

Why?

Why isn’t Pacific Grove paying more, now, so that it can avoid more years of having too little money in its pension plan, earning interest to properly fund future pensions? The reason is simple: Telling Pacific Grove to go out and find another $2.7 million, right now, is politically unpalatable. In six years, most of the local elected officials in Pacific Grove will be gone. But where is Pacific Grove going to find this kind of money? Where are any of California’s cities and counties going to find this kind of money?

One final point: These pension plans are underfunded after a bull market in stocks has doubled since it’s last peak in June 2007, and has nearly quadrupled since it’s last low in March 2009. When stocks and real estate have been running up in value for eight years, pension plans should not be underfunded. But they are. CalPERS should be overfunded at a time like this, not underfunded. That bodes ill for the financial status of CalPERS if and when stocks and real estate undergo a downward correction.

CalPERS, and the public employee unions that dominate CalPERS, have done a disservice to taxpayers, public agencies, and ultimately, to the individual participants who are counting on them to know what they’re doing. They were too optimistic, and the consequences are just beginning to be felt.

  *   *   *

Gov. Brown’s Budget and Legacy Priorities

Governor Brown released his 2018-19 Budget last week and the OC Register was kind enough to publish my first impressions in their commentary section.  Here is a link:

The good and bad of Jerry Brown’s budget

I also sent out an immediate reaction:

Governor Brown admits that the “last 5 budgets have significantly increased spending” and this budget proposal is no different. Coming in at just under $300 billion dollars of total spending, debt and poverty remain at all-time highs. Even worse, our balance sheet is massively short and unfunded liabilities are in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Our underfunded pension systems will get minimum payments of $6.2 billion to CalPERS and $3.1 billion for CalSTRS. These costs are directly related to policies Jerry Brown embraced 40 years ago during his first time as governor. While he’s sensitive to a possible economic slowdown and should be lauded for increasing our rainy day funds, he has been a spendthrift in Sacramento. We have to acknowledge that the $9.3 billion in pension payments won’t go to pay for more teachers or cut college tuition or build roads right now. And yet, we’re hoisting these liabilities on future generations at a higher cost unless we do more to address them now. I was wondering how seriously Governor Brown would be in his last budget about addressing our liabilities. It looks like he’s kicking the can down the road to the next governor. Oh well.

The primary focus for Governor Brown has not been that California has the worst balance sheet of all 50 states. Just look at the city of Oakland’s balance sheet, and you’ll see that being deep in a fiscal hole is not one of Jerry’s worries.

Brown’s focus has been climate change and converting California to an electric car state, relying on solar and wind to provide the energy. It’s covered in a lengthy and thorough manner by CALmatters here:

California’s climate fight gets harder soon, and the big culprit is cars

The irony is that electricity needs to be carried by power lines. These power lines have caused many of the wildfires in California. And, wildfires create more greenhouse gases than our state’s cars, by a long shot. So, where is the effort to address the cause of the biggest greenhouse gas source? It’s nonexistent. See: MOORLACH UPDATE — Fire Safety Concerns.

Worse, being totally dependent on electricity for travel, communication, preserving food supplies, and dealing with occasional inclement weather, this state will shut down in a matter of days without it. This is also a scary proposition in a world where terrorism is the new norm. I’m just sayin’.

There’s the legacy. He’s funded the required Rainy Day Fund. He’s exposing residents to a different danger in the potential loss of power.  And he’s flown around the world to preach climate change. But, our balance sheet sucks and our wildfire zones went up in smoke this year and are now suffering from the damages that rain can cause.  Sometimes I just want to weep.

Is there a niche for sensible politics in California & America?

California-budget-crisis-bear-flagGiven the current state of American politics, and those of our state of California, our founding fathers might well consider not just turning over in their graves but boring deeper towards the earth’s core. Yet amidst the almost unceasing signs of discord and hyperbolic confrontation, there exists a more sensible approach which could help rescue our wobbling Republic.

Centrism has long been the subject of well-meaning advocacy but has lacked a class or geographic focus. It most defines the politics of the suburban middle. Much of the urban core — where Clinton and other Democrats often win as many as 80 to 90 percent of the vote — is now about as deep blue as the Soviet Union was red. For its part, the countryside has emerged so much as the bastion of Trumpism that MSNBC’s Joy Reid labels rural voters, “the core threat to our democracy.”

A niche for sensible politics?

Most Americans do not live in either the urban core or rural periphery; more than half live in suburban areas which nearly split their ballots in 2016 , with perhaps a slight edge for President Trump. Many suburban areas — not only in California or New York but in places like Fort Bend County, outside Houston — went for Clinton. Democrats won big recently in the Virginia suburbs, and did better in those in Alabama; both resulted in stinging defeats for Trump and the GOP.

To consolidate these gains, Democrats need to resist the tendency, most epitomized by the likes of Gov. Jerry Brown, to detest not only suburbs, but the entire notion of expanded property ownership, privacy and personal autonomy. Suburbanites may not like Trump’s nativism and grossness, but they do have an interest in preserving their way of life.

A more reasoned, problem solving approach seems the best course as well for Republicans. The most popular governors in the nation, for example, are not progressive firebrands like Brown or Washington’s Jay Inslee, both under 50 percent approval. Nor are right-wing firebrands so popular; Kansas’ Sam Brownback wins plaudits from less than a quarter of his electorate. They are measured politicians like Maryland’s Larry Hogan and Massachusetts’ Charlie Baker, Republicans from deep blue states with roughly two-thirds approval.

Breaking with the bad

These political leaders suggest a new possibility to circumvent the red-blue, coast-heartland divides tearing the country apart. It could also lead to an end to the spasmodic political upheavals which either favor core cities, as was the case with President Obama, or now President Trump’s base in the more dispersed heartland.

One idea has been to promote an independent candidacy of Ohio GOP Gov. John Kasich and Colorado’s John Hickenlooper, who have worked on health care reform together. Both men are thoughtful, come from swing states and enjoy high popularity ratings. Sadly, Kasich, to date, has backed away from such a campaign, although perhaps the combination of a future Trump meltdown and a more pronounced Democratic shift to the left, could make him reconsider.

Veteran political observer Lou Cannon suggest that a more centrist, common-sense politics has a market. Independents are a growing trend, now accounting for 40 percent of the electorate, that is particularly marked among millennials. Both major parties, deservedly in my mind, are near record lows in terms of popularity among voters. Skeptics counter that polarization is growing and that many independents remain largely adherents of one party or the other, even if they detest their leaders.

How about California?

California is widely seen as a one-party state, dominated largely by rabid progressives. Yet “decline to state” voters are growing and now larger than Republicans. Surprisingly, the Democratic preference has also dropped over the past 25 years from 49 to 45 percent.

Right now the best hope for independents lies in the candidacy of environmentalist Michael Shellenberger, co-founder of the Oakland-based Breakthrough Institute. Unlike many of his green allies, Shellenberger has the courage to denounce climate policies that create higher housing and energy prices, in the process stunting upward mobility.

Shellenberger points out that the current Brown policies have not done so well in reducing emissions, as recently documented in the green magazine Grist. The main reason for last year’s emissions drop turned out to be surge in hydropower, from last year’s wet weather. Shellenberger traces the state’s less than stellar performance as well to the shutdown of nuclear power, arguably the most effective way to reduce carbon. More important still, he sees a state under the control of a corrupt political machine, first crafted by John Burton in the 1960s, dominated by “public employees and green energy companies.”

Unlike our self-styled progressive leaders, Shellenberger favors policies that address climate without undermining the middle and working classes. He defends “the California dream” and accuses the front-runner, former San Francisco Mayor (surprise!) Gavin Newsom of “talking more about Trump” than assessing the state’s real needs.

Best of all Shellenberger epitomizes the notion that politicians should address real problems, rather than posturing for the adoration of the media, celebrities and billionaires with clearly too much money and time on their hands. “Does it matter if a policy is liberal or conservative,” he asks. “Who cares? What matters is what works.”

Originally published in the Orange County Register.

Cross posted at New Geography.

Editor of NewGeography.com and Presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University

Breaking Poll: Travis Allen Only Republican Candidate That Can Make Run Off

A new SurveyUSA poll released Thursday confirms that Travis Allen is the clear Republican frontrunner in the race for California Governor. Travis Allen’s support stands at 9%, more than doubles the support of his nearest Republican rival John Cox, who has dropped to 4%. The support for Travis Allen is more than the combined support for his two Republican opponents, John Cox and Doug Ose, who stand at 4% and 2%.

In even more good news for Travis Allen, he is essentially tied with Villaraigosa, who has 10%, to make the run of against Gavin Newsom.

“This poll shows our message of Taking Back California and Restoring the California Dream is resonating with voters,” said Assemblyman Allen. “The voters know that only an authentic conservative will be able to beat the elites and special interests and make California once again the greatest state in the nation,” finished Allen.

Making housing more expensive to build won’t make it more affordable

Housing apartmentOnly a politician could believe that making housing more expensive to build will create more affordable housing.

But in Los Angeles, that’s what Mayor Eric Garcetti and the City Council are asserting. In December, they approved a new “linkage fee” on new development aimed at raising $100 million per year toward a goal of building 1,500 units of new affordable housing annually.

Don’t bother with the math. They didn’t.

The idea of a linkage fee, which exists in some other cities, is to get money from developers whose projects will displace residents in existing housing or generate a need for additional housing, something that could happen if a new workplace was built.

Hardly anybody is building a new workplace in Los Angeles unless it has a drive-through, but play along.

The “linkage fee” in Los Angeles won’t specifically be linked to the impact from a project. It’s simply a new fee for building in the city.

The early draft of the linkage fee, which has been on Mayor Garcetti’s wish-list since 2015, would have imposed the same fee for similar developments regardless of where they were located in the city. But some council members objected to the one-size-fits-all charge.

So the final version divides the city into “high-market” areas like downtown, Venice and Brentwood, and “low-market” areas like South Los Angeles.

The linkage fee for office, hotel, retail and other commercial buildings is $3 per square foot in low-market areas, $5 per square foot in high-market areas.

For residential developments, the fee is even higher: $8 per square foot in a low-market area, $15 per square foot in a high-market area.

The money will go into the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and city officials say they’ll spend it to build hundreds of units of affordable housing.

Unfortunately, the number of Los Angeles residents who are in need of affordable housing is in the tens of thousands, and those are just the people sleeping on the sidewalks.

Meanwhile, the cost of all other new housing will go up, because developers have to pay these huge new linkage fees just to be allowed to build it.

There are two ways that residential developers can avoid the fees. One is by reserving a percentage of units in their projects for low-income renters. The other option, which is also available to developers of commercial projects, is to get out of Los Angeles and build somewhere else.

Many cities in the Southern California region don’t have linkage fees and don’t treat the construction of a commercial or residential building as a sin that requires some sort of political or financial penance.

In some places, local governments even offer incentives for developers and businesses, to encourage building and hiring.

That’s rare in Los Angeles, where the breathtaking decay of the city is considered incentive enough.

The state Legislative Analyst’s Office has done extensive research into the problem of housing affordability in California, including a detailed report released in the spring of 2016 titled, “Perspectives on Helping Low-Income Californians Afford Housing.”

“The scope of the problem is massive,” the report said, “Millions of Californians struggle to find housing that is both affordable and suits their needs. The crisis also is a long time in the making, the culmination of decades of shortfalls in housing construction. And just as the crisis has taken decades to develop, it will take many years or decades to correct. There are no quick and easy fixes.”

The LAO concluded that while “affordable housing programs are vitally important to the households they assist, these programs help only a small fraction of the Californians that are struggling to cope with the state’s high housing costs.”

To build public-subsidized affordable housing for the 1.7 million low-income California households that spend more than half their income on rent would cost more than $250 billion, by the LAO’s estimate.

But the problem is not just math, it’s logic. When it becomes more expensive to build housing, then less housing is built, and what is built is more expensive.

The LAO report said the real solution is more housing construction, and the scale of the problem can only be matched by privately built, market-rate housing.

“Doing so will require policy makers to revisit long-standing state policies on local governance and environmental protection, as well as local planning and land use regimes,” the report concluded.

So there really is something the government can do about housing affordability. It can get out of the way.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Brown’s final budget plan proposes $132 billion in spending

Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown proposed a $131.7 billion state spending plan Wednesday, launching his final year of budget negotiations as he prepares to leave office.

Brown’s proposal is up 5 percent from last year but includes little new spending on new programs. Once again warning that he believes a recession looms, Brown dedicated $5 billion toward the state’s Rainy Day fund, more than is constitutionally required. He also proposed a new online community college program.

“It’s not exciting, it’s not funding good and nice things, but it’s getting ready and that is the work of a budget,” Brown said.

Notably, Brown’s plan makes no changes related to federal tax changes out of Washington, which are expected to hit taxpayers in high-tax states like California the hardest. That’s because Brown had to finalize his plan in December, before the federal changes were finalized. He said he expects to make revisions to his plan during ongoing negotiations with the Legislature. A final plan must be passed by lawmakers in June.

The spending plan also includes nearly $59 million in special funds and bonds, which are dedicated for specific purposes. …

Click here to read the full article from  KPPC

GOP Congressman Darrell Issa will not seek re-election

Nine-term Congressman Darrell Issa, among the most vulnerable Republican House members in this year’s elections, unexpectedly announced Wednesday morning that he would not seek reelection.

In an emailed statement, Issa recounted his accomplishments but specified no reason for the decision.

“Throughout my service, I worked hard and never lost sight of the people our government is supposed to serve,” he said. “Yet with the support of my family, I have decided that I will not seek re-election in California’s 49th District.”

Issa, whose district straddles the Orange-San Diego county line, was nearly upset in 2016 by Democrat Doug Applegate, winning the closest House race in the country by just 0.6 percentage points.

Roll Call has listed him as the most vulnerable House member. Democrats consider winning his district essential to flipping the 24 Republican House seats needed to take control of the House. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

The Hidden Agenda of Extreme Environmentalism

We live in the most expensive state in America, and it is completely the result of political choices made by the California legislature. Across all sectors – oil, gas, electricity, water and housing – environmentalist arguments prevail. But there is a hidden agenda that most sincere environmentalists still don’t recognize. An agenda that pursues profit and power, instead of practical environmentalism that balances the interests of the planet with the interests of the people.

Even Gov. Brown has refused to support a ban on fracking in California. Moreover, there are reserves of oil and gas in California that don’t require fracking. Using slant drilling, for example (a technology that didn’t exist back in the 1970’s when offshore oil drilling was banned), you can access natural gas reserves in the Santa Barbara Channel from land based rigs. But fossil fuel development is only one issue that ought to be up for debate.

San OnofreWhat about nuclear power? The technology has come a long way in the last fifty years. Even if coastal reactors are considered too dangerous, why not build some in geologically stable areas inland? There’s plenty of land in the Mojave Desert where nuclear power plants could be sited. And what about desalination? It’s only too costly if you consider California prices – artificially inflated – they build desalination plants in Israel for one quarter the price per output. Why can’t we?

What about water storage – what about the proposed Sites and Temperance Flats reservoirs? What about sewage reuse? Californians produce about 3 million acre feet of sewage each year, much of which is cleaned and poured into the ocean, when if we cleaned it a bit more we could reuse it.

What about housing? California’s a supposed sanctuary state, inviting millions of people in. Where are they going to live? Why do you think, even in the inland valleys, homes are priced at $400,000 or more (usually much more)? Do you actually think homes need to cost this much?

All of this is contrived, artificial, politically created scarcity. And it is making a lot of people filthy rich, while it makes life very difficult for 90%+ of California’s residents – old and young, regardless of ethnicity or immigration status.

Environmentalists in California act like they have all the answers. They are arrogant and selective in the facts they use. What about all the embodied energy in wind and solar installations? Do we ever hear about the payback periods for all the energy it took to build that stuff? What about the impact when taking into account the need for natural gas peaking plants that have to spin into action every time the sun goes behind a cloud or the wind dies down? What about the difficulty in storing intermittent energy, or the fact that sourcing rare earth metals for electric car batteries is causing environmental havoc all over the planet?

One might assume that of someone holds these positions they must not care about the environment, but if so they’d be wrong. We need an honest discussion about these issues, without ceding the discussion to environmentalist trial lawyers, phony “green” entrepreneurs, and oligarchs who control the artificially scarce supplies of entitled land, housing, electricity, gas, and water. Because they just want to keep things the way they are so they can continue to make money.

There’s two sides to this story.

Abortion pills would be available at college campuses under California bill

Should California colleges make medication that induces an abortion available to students?

A controversial bill that would require student health centers at the University of California and California State University to offer “non-surgical abortion services” faces a crucial vote today to keep advancing this session. Introduced last February, Senate Bill 320 must pass the Senate Education Committee, which meets at 9 a.m. in Room 4203 of the Capitol, before a Friday deadline for holdover legislation.

Sen. Connie Leyva, a Chino Democrat who is carrying the measure, said she believes the more than 400,000 female students attending UC and CSU deserve affordable and safe abortion procedures on campus. Women who are less than 10 weeks pregnant can obtain the medication, a two-pill dosage of mifepristone and misoprostol, from a doctor, creating a response similar to an early miscarriage.

Students currently have to leave campus to access reproductive health services, sometimes traveling for hours and missing school and work, Leyva notes. Half of all students across both systems come from low-income families, according to a UC San Francisco report, creating further cost barriers. …

Click here to read the full article from the Sacramento Bee

Court Case Could Free Public Employees from Unions

Supreme CourtThe U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the Janus v AFSCME case on February 26, with a decision scheduled to be announced in June. If successful, it would free public employees in 22 states from having to pay any money to a union as a condition of employment.

Many union leaders are beside themselves with the thought that their days of collecting forced dues payments may well be numbered. And in an attempt to convince anyone who will listen to them, the lies and whines are flowing like raw sewage. Perhaps Numero Uno on the BS meter is Mr. Eric Heins, president of the California Teachers Association. In the current issue of California Educator, the union’s magazine, Heins spews some whoppers that would make Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton blush.

“They want to use the Supreme Court to take away the freedom of working people to join in strong unions.” Blatant crock. The case is about giving working people a choice to be a part of a union.

“A decision in Janus to strip public employees of their collective bargaining rights in the workplace moves us further in the wrong direction.” Uh, nice bait and switch. The case has nothing to do with collective bargaining; it’s about the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of association for workers.

“No other organization exists to protect California’s children the way CTA does – in the classroom and beyond.” Okay, technically not a lie, but it’s a distinction without a difference. In his opinion, CTA, which has burdened the Golden State with tenure, seniority and dismissal statutes so onerous that firing a pedophile is almost impossible, is “protecting children.” No, the union is there to preserve teachers’ jobs at any cost…whether they deserve preservation or not. The children you pay lip service to – not to mention taxpayers you profess to champion – are hardly “protected” by your union.

Other unions have also ramped up their rhetoric as the oral argument date nears. The American Federation of Teachers, stressing precedent, is invoking the 1977 Abood ruling, which allows for forced dues. Using the stare decisis argument, the union adopted a resolution “urging the court to reaffirm its long-standing position rather than imposing a national ‘right to work’ landscape.” Surely the union would admit that using a prior ruling as the basis to justify a law is not always the right and just thing to do. For example, AFT wouldn’t have been caught dead using stare decisis to support Plessy v Ferguson, which advanced the “separate but equal” doctrine for public facilities, including schools, when  Brown v. Board of Education, which claimed that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal, challenged the 58 year old ruling in 1954.

In the “whine” category, one meme that keeps popping up is the unions’ insistence that they will become insolvent without compelled dues. AFSCME President Lee Saunders called Janus a political attack against union finances. To be sure the unions will take a financial hit, but if it doesn’t have anything to offer to a worker, it should lose business or even fold up. Think Edsel.

In the “misdirection” department, Slate writer Mark Joseph Stern deserves to be singled out for chutzpah. He asserts that the claim made by Janus that the First Amendment flatly prohibits the government from compelling Americans to subsidize speech with which they disagree is bogus. He writes, “… this happens all the time: Tax revenue, for instance, is frequently used to promote messages that a taxpayer does not endorse, yet nobody seriously believes that taxes are unconstitutional.”

What Stern conveniently omits is that the union is not a government entity, but rather a private corporation. For better or worse, making people pay for services they neither asked for nor want is a “privilege” we reserve for government. In other words, while I must pay state and federal taxes, I don’t have to pay the Auto Club a fee because they say they provide certain necessary services. I am not forced to fork over money to the NRA because the pro-Second Amendment group advocates for me. AAA and NRA are private entities but, unlike unions, are not allowed to coerce money from unwilling individuals.

Given the originalist majority on the Supreme Court, Mark Janus should be successful in his attempt to continue in his job as a child support specialist at the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services without being made to pay one red cent to any union to keep his job. And a union will then have to convince him (and several million other government employees) that it’s in his best interest to join up. What a concept.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.