How Government Unions Are Destroying America

UnionNot one presidential candidate, apart from Gov. Walker?s last-ditch rhetoric prior to dropping out, has discussed the problems with unionized government as a major issue. That?s too bad, because these problems are bigger than even most critics acknowledge.

When people discuss the need to reform, if not eliminate, public sector unions, the only reason typically cited is that their demands are bankrupting our cities and states. And reformers also usually fail to communicate the fundamental differences between government unions and private sector unions, or emphasize the bipartisan urgency of public sector union reform. Government unions don?t merely drive our cities and counties into service insolvency if not bankruptcy, they are distorting policy decisions of fundamental importance to the future of America.

With a focus on California, and in no particular order, here is an attempt to summarize how this is occurring:

(1) The Economy

California has the highest?taxes and fees in the U.S., and is consistently ranked as the worst state in America to do business. California also has the highest paid public employees in the United States, and with state and local debt and unfunded retirement obligations now hovering around $1 trillion ? nearly half of the state?s entire GDP ? virtually all new state and local taxes and fees are to pay for services that have already been performed. The uncontrollable political power of state and local government unions, combined with their insatiable appetite for more pay, more benefits, and more members, has ? across all areas of policy ? shifted political priorities from the public interest to the interests of public employees. The primary reason for excessive taxes and fees, as well as fewer services and less infrastructure investment, is because California?s unionized state and local government workers receive pay and benefits that are twice what the average private citizen earns.

(2) Cronyism and Financial Special Interests

When government unions control the government, big business either gets out of the way or gets on board. The idea that government unions protect the public interest against big corporate interests is absurd. Government union backed policies create deficits that bond issuers?earn billions underwriting. Excessive pension benefits create additional hundreds of billions in pension fund assets invested on Wall Street. Excessive regulations are enforced by additional unionized government employees, to which only the biggest corporations can afford to comply. Government unions enable and enrich the largest corporate and financial interests at the expense of small independent businesses and emerging competitors.

(3) Environment

When it comes to cronyism, the ?clean-tech? sector has risen to the top of the list. Government unions are partnering with ?green? venture capitalists to carve up the proceeds of California?s carbon emission auction proceeds, a tax by any other name that will eventually extract tens of billions each year from California?s consumers to fund investments that wouldn?t make it in a normal market. From high-speed rail to side loading washers that tear up fabric, strain backs, and require expensive maintenance, ?green? projects and products are being forced on Californians in order to enrich investors and corporations. But it doesn?t end there. A bad fire season isn?t because of normal drought recurrence, no, the cause is ?man made climate-change,? so fire crews have a claim on CO2 emissions auction proceeds. A heat wave isn?t a heat wave, it?s global warming ? and since crime is statistically known to increase during hot weather, police agencies also have a claim on CO2 emissions auction proceeds. Code inspectors and planners? Climate change mitigation via enforcing ?additional? energy efficiency mandates and higher housing density. Transit workers whose conveyances replace cars? Ditto. Teachers who insert climate change indoctrination into curricula? Ditto.

An entire article, or book for that matter, could be written on the synergistic symbiosis between environmental extremists, big business/finance, and government unions. What about the artificial scarcity environmentalism creates by restricting development of land, energy, water, and other natural resources? When this happens, the wealthiest corporations and developers make higher profits while their smaller competitors go out of business. Utilities, whose margins are fixed, raise revenues which increases their absolute profits. Union controlled government pension funds, whose entire solvency depends on asset bubbles, ride investments in these artificially scarce commodities to new heights. Property tax revenues rise because home prices are artificially inflated.

(4) Infrastructure

California?s deferred maintenance on existing infrastructure ? roads, bridges, rail, port facilities, utility grid, dams and aqueducts ? has been assessed in the hundreds of billions. New infrastructure to solve, for example, water scarcity, would include toilet-to-tap sewage reuse, desalination, enhanced runoff capture, and ? dare we say it ? a few new dams. But none of these projects get off the ground, not only because environmentalists oppose them based on mostly misguided principles, but because artificial scarcity enriches established special interests, and because all the public funds that can possibly be found are instead perpetually needed to pay unionized government workers. More pay. More benefits. More government workers. Infrastructure? It?s environmentally harmful.

(5) Immigration

No matter where one stands on this sensitive and complex issue, they must recognize that government unions win when immigrants fail to prosper or assimilate. While American culture retains a vitality that is almost irresistible to newcomers and may overcome all attempts to undermine and fragment it, if government unions had their way, that?s exactly what would happen. Because the more difficulties new immigrants encounter, the more government workers are required. If immigrants fail to find jobs, if they become alienated and traumatized, if they turn to crime or even terrorism, then we need more welfare and social workers, we need more multilingual teachers and bureaucrats, we need more police, and we need more prisons. The unpleasant truth is this: If we import millions of destitute immigrants into America ? people with marginal skills from cultures that?are hostile to American values ? it is a meal ticket worth billions of dollars for government unions, and for every crony business who services the programs they administer.

(6) Authoritarianism

By?over-regulating all activity that so much as scratches the earth, whether it?s to develop land, water, energy, minerals; to farm, transport, build, manufacture; to enforce these rules, more government powers are required. Similarly, by upending?the cultural fabric that?s nurtured a social contract in America so strong that volumes of law never had to be written, but were instead the stuff of mutually understood courtesies and customs, we invite strife. To manage this, more rules and referees are necessary, enforced by more government. As society loses its cohesion, and as ordinary honest citizens rebel against excessive taxes and regulations, government unions benefit from training their members to mistrust the fractious and rebellious public. After all, unionized government workers are now a special class. As society fragments, they become more cohesive. As the middle class dissolves, they retain their economic privileges. Perhaps more than any other factor, government unions impel the growth of a police state.

(7) Education

To consider education is to save the most important for last. Because everything that is wrong with where our culture is headed can either be magnified or mitigated by how we educate our young students, regardless of their income or gender or culture or faith. As it is, in California?s public schools, students are taught that open space is sacred, that energy development will destroy the planet, that capitalism is innately flawed if not irredeemable, and that the legacy of Western European culture is a primary cause for most problems in the world. Instead of teaching children to develop functional skills in reading and math, they are being indoctrinated to believe that any failure or disappointment they ever encounter is the result of discrimination. Given the demographics of California?s youth, the union fostered educational environment currently imposed on them is nothing short of a catastrophe.

The reader may not agree with all seven of these assessments, but regardless of the scope of anyone?s reform advocacy, they must confront government unions. Because reform in all of these areas is stopped by government unions. Do you want to unleash California?s economic potential? Do you want to reduce the power of?the financial special interests and crony capitalists? Do you want to restore balance to environmental policies, and build revenue producing infrastructure that eliminates scarcity and lowers the cost of living for ordinary people? Do you want to stop importing welfare recipients and instead admit highly skilled and highly educated workers who will enliven our economy and our culture with spectacular success? Do you want to avoid living in a police state? Do you want California?s children to be taught lessons that build their character and give them useful skills?

Reformers must?recognize that government unions have a natural interest in preventing any of these reforms from ever happening. Addressing?any of these issues without also taking on the government unions is futile. Conscientious members of government unions can play a vital role in reforms, by the way, if they are willing to make their personal interests secondary to their duties as a public servant. If California can be rescued from the grip of government unions, eventually everyone will benefit. And as goes California, so goes the nation.

* ? * ? *

Ed Ring?is the executive director of the?California Policy Center.

Deceptive and Misleading Claims ? How Government Unions Fool the Public

Unions pension public sectorCalifornia?s public sector unions collect and spend well over $1 billion per year. When you have that much money, you can hire thousands of skilled professionals to wage campaigns, litigate, lobby, negotiate and communicate. You can hire the best public relations firms money can buy. You can commission research studies that spin facts to support your agenda. You can silence voices of dissent, voices of reason, voices of reform, with an avalanche of misinformation. And it works.

Here, then, for what it?s worth, is a “top 10” list of some of the biggest deceptions and misleading claims made by California?s government unions.

1 ? Government unions are protecting the middle class.

FALSE. Government unions are protecting government workers at the expense of the private sector middle class. The agenda of government unions is more wages and benefits for government workers, and more hiring of government workers. To adhere to this agenda, failure of government programs still constitutes success for these unions. More laws, more regulations and more government programs equates to more unionized government workers, regardless of the cost, benefit or need for these programs.?The primary agenda of unionized government has nothing to do with the welfare of the private sector middle class, whose taxes pay for it.

2 ? Government unions are a necessary political counterweight to ?Wall Street,? big business and billionaires.

FALSE. When government is expanded to serve the interests of government unions, the elite and privileged special interests are relatively unaffected, and often benefit. Large corporations can afford to comply with excessive regulations that drive their emerging competitors out of business. When governments borrow to finance deficits created by an over-built unionized government, bond underwriters profit from the fees. Government pension funds are among the biggest players on Wall Street, aggressively investing hundreds of billions each year to secure their 7 percent (or more) per year returns. Billionaires can afford to pay taxes and fees ? it?s the middle-class taxpayer who can be overwhelmed by them. When powerful special interests want favorable legislation passed in California, they go to the government unions and make a deal. Government unions are the brokers and enablers of special interest cronyism. They are allies, not counterweights.

3 ? Government unions represent and protect the American worker and the labor movement.

union collective bargaining public sectorFALSE. For better or worse, government unions represent and protect government workers. Government unions and private sector unions have very little in common. Unlike private unions, government unions elect their own bosses, and their agencies are funded by compulsory taxes, not through profits earned by creating products and services that are voluntarily purchased in a competitive market. Moreover, government union members operate the machinery of government, giving them the ability to harass their political opponents under cover of authority. Private sector unions ? properly regulated ? have a legitimate role to play in American society. Government unions, on the other hand, exist to serve the interests of government workers, not the ordinary American citizen.

4 ? Public employees are underpaid.

FALSE. In past decades, prior to the unionization of government, a public worker exchanged lower base pay for better retirement benefits and more job security. But today, not only have retirement benefits been greatly increased from what was normal back in the 1980?s and 1990?s, but in most cases the base pay of government workers exceeds the base pay for private sector workers performing jobs requiring similar skills. A?2015 study by State Budget Solutions?estimated the total compensation of California?s government workers to exceed private sector workers by 31 percent. But these studies?typically?omit lower paid independent contractors who now constitute one in three workers. A California Policy Center?study that examined 2012?data showed the average pay and benefits for California?s city workers was $124,058, county workers $102,312, and state workers $100,668. And this study did not take into account the value of additional paid vacation benefits, extra paid holidays, and generous ?comp time? policies, which add significantly?to the total value of annual compensation. Just how much public employee pay exceeds private sector pay for equivalent jobs is the topic of ongoing debate. But they?re not underpaid by any reasonable measure.

5 ? The average public sector pension is only $25,000 per year (or some similarly low number).

FALSE. The problem with this profoundly misleading statistic is that this low average is the result of including participants who only worked a few years in state/local government, barely vesting a pension. Should someone who worked less than a decade (or two) in a job expect a pension based on a full career of service? When normalizing for 30 year careers and taking into account the uptick in retirement benefit formulas that rolled through California starting in 1999, the average state/local retiree in California collects a pension and retirement health benefit package worth over $70,000 per year. For a private sector taxpayer to collect this much in retirement, they would have to save at least $1.5 million. If public pensions weren?t so generous, these pension systems would not face severe financial challenges. Which brings us to the next myth …

6 ? California?s state/local pension systems are being reformed and will be just fine financially.

FALSE. Virtually every official post-reform projection among California?s 80+ public sector pension systems are predicting eventual financial health based on a huge, extremely risky assumption ? that the average annual returns of these funds over the next few decades will exceed 7.0 percent per year. Common sense should tell any unbiased observer that ongoing 7.0 percent average annual returns are not a safe bet. If they are, why are Treasury Bills only yielding 3.0 percent? What are mortgage bankers only able to get 3.5 percent on 30 year fixed mortgages? Why are bank CD?s only offering 2.0 percent? The spread between equity returns and truly risk-free returns has never been this large for this long. Pension funds are basing future performance projections on past results. The problem is that over the past 30 years, interest rates have been steadily lowered to allow people to borrow more. This borrowing stimulated the economy, creating corporate profits and driving up the price of corporate equities. But interest rates cannot be lowered any further. We are at the end of a long-term credit cycle, and pension funds are just beginning to deal with the consequences.

7 ? The teachers unions care about student achievement more than anything else.

FALSE. The evidence simply doesn?t support this assertion. Consider the reaction of the California Teachers Association to the recent?Vergara decision, in which a Los Angeles superior court judge agreed with student plaintiffs who challenged three union work rules. The CTA criticized the ruling and announced their support for an appeal. What does the?Vergara lawsuit?aim to accomplish? It would take away the ability for teachers to earn tenure in less than two years. It would end the practice of favoring seniority over merit when deciding what teachers to layoff. And it would make it easier to fire incompetent teachers. These are commonsense, bipartisan reforms that the teachers unions oppose.

8 ? Billionaires are trying to hijack California?s public education system.

FALSE. To the extent wealthy individuals have decided to involve themselves in education reform and private education initiatives, they come from a diverse background of political orientations. But all of them share a desire to rescue California?s next generation of citizens from a union monopoly on education. And unlike the unionized traditional public school, public charter schools and private schools survive based on the choice of parents who want?a better education for their children. And if they don?t do a great job, the parents can withdraw their children from the failing charter or private school. Introducing competition to California?s unionized K-12 education system is a healthy, hopeful trend that gathers support from concerned citizens of all incomes, ethnic groups, and political ideologies.

9 ? Proponents of public sector union reform are ?anti-government workers.?

FALSE. This sort of claim is a distraction from the reality ? which is that public sector unions have corrupted the democratic process and have been attempting to inculcate public employees with the ?us vs. them? mentality that is the currency of unions. Sadly, the opposite is the truth ? government unions alienate the public from their government, and, worse, alienate government employees from the public. They have created two classes of workers, government employees who have superior pay, benefits, job security and retirement security, and everyone else in the private sector. They know perfectly well that this level of worker comfort is economically impossible to extend?to everyone. Government unions have undermined the sense of common rules and shared fate between public and private individuals that is a foundation of democracy. Those who oppose government unions recognize this threat. It has nothing to do with their support and respect for the men and women who perform the many difficult and risky jobs that are the role of government.

10 ? Opponents of government unions are ?right wing extremists.?

FALSE. The problems caused by government unions should concern everyone, and they do. Conscientious left-wing activists who favor an expanded role for government expect?positive results, not failed programs that were created merely to increase union membership. They realize that unionized government is expensive and inefficient, leaving less money or authority to maintain or expand government services: Public libraries and parks with reduced hours and curtailed maintenance; pitted, congested roads; after school recreation programs without reliable funding; public schools where students aren?t learning and apathetic teachers are protected from accountability. Government has to be cost-effective, no matter how big or how small. Opponents of government unions can disagree on the?optimal?size?of government, yet passionately agree on the problems caused by a unionized government.

This list of 10 myths promulgated by spokespersons for government unions only begins to chronicle their many deceptions. But each of these myths offer strategic value to these unions ? giving them the ability to put reformers on the defensive, change the topic of discussion, redefine the terms of the debate. Each of them has powerful emotional resonance, and each of them ? along with many others ? is continuously reinforced by a network of professional communicators backed by literally billions in dues revenue.

Compensation reform, pension reform, other fiscal reforms, reforming work rules, education reform ? all these urgent reforms must first go through?one powerful special interest that stops them in their tracks: Government unions. Reformers must confront not only the myths these unions promote, challenging and debunking them,?but they must also redefine the role of government unions, if not question?their very existence.

* ? * ? *

Ed Ring?is the executive director of the?California Policy Center.

Median Total Compensation for Redwood City Firefighters ? At Least $226,365

dollars-in-fire-live-wallpaper-55-3-s-307x512Back in February 2014 the California Policy Center publicly announced the Transparent California website, developed in partnership with the Nevada Policy Research Institute. An article covering this announcement was posted on the Forbes Magazine website, entitled ?Hundreds Of California Government Employees Are Paid Over $400,000 A Year,? which a review of?2013 Transparent California data?(2014 data is still being assembled) easily confirms. As a matter of fact, in 2013, total compensation in excess of $400,000 was paid to 1,292 public servants in California. A staggering 2,818 of California?s public employees collected total compensation in excess of $300,000 in 2013.

Some have argued that it is misleading to claim people are making, for example, over $400,000 per year, when in fact the $400,000 being referenced is total compensation, not regular earnings. We reject this argument categorically. It is incumbent on anyone who assesses compensation to treat total compensation as the only valid measurement both for comparative purposes and, especially, when considering employer costs. Total compensation represents the actual cost to the employer, and it represents the actual value earned by the employee. Every penny of total compensation, whether it?s to fund future retirement benefits or to pay for current benefits such as health insurance, is something a worker will have to pay for themselves out of their regular earnings, unless it is instead paid for by the employer.

When talking about how much we pay our public servants, we contend that it is misleading to reference anything but total compensation.

The Forbes article published in Feb. 2014 also cited examples of excessive pay from Redwood City, which raises another issue, which is the reliability of the data gathered. As it turns out, and as the city acknowledged, the data provided to Transparent California by the city was not intentionally misleading, but easily misunderstood. This lead to the author of the Forbes article claiming that ?nine employees made over $400,000 in total compensation with a total of 33, mostly police and fire department employees, making over $300,000 in total compensation in 2012.??The city?s response: ??No Redwood City employee earned more than $400K. Furthermore, the correct number of employees earning more than $300K is 28, not 33 as stated in the op-ed.? The city had put ?exit incentive? payments into two data columns instead of just one and they got double counted by Transparent California?s researchers during the formatting process.

These are innocent mistakes. It?s worth noting that even the State Controller issues this disclaimer on all of their?downloadable raw data?spreadsheets showing public employee compensation ???the information presented is posted as submitted by the reporting entity. The State Controller?s Office is not responsible for the accuracy of this information.?

The real question, the real issue that isn?t going to go away, is how much should we be paying our public servants? How much can we afford to pay, and how much is fair both to these employees but also to taxpayers? So let?s take a look at 2013 data for Redwood City?s firefighters. We choose firefighters because the fire department in Redwood City, just as in nearly every other city in California, has the highest average pay and benefits of any major department.

To make this assessment, we used data provided to the State Controller for three years, 2011, 2012 and 2013. Here are the results:

Redwood City Compensation Analysis ?? ?Full Time Firefighters
20150601-UW-Redwood

As can be seen, during 2012 these firefighters earned?significantly more overtime pay, probably because in 2012 full-time staffing was down from 2011, but then recovered again in 2013. It?s important to observe that the median total compensation is higher than the average. This is common when evaluating public safety pay and benefits in California, and refutes the claim that highly compensated executives skew the averages.

When evaluating the median total compensation of Redwood City?s full-time firefighters in 2013 of $226,365, it is necessary to consider what primary variables are driving that amount. The issue of overtime, for example, can be quite misleading. If you read the?MOU in effect between Redwood City and IAF Local 2400, you will see that the 56 hour (fire suppression personnel who work 24 hour shifts) employees are apparently paid overtime when they work on any of the 12 paid holidays (MOU page 22, section 8.1). This makes sense, but if you assume these firefighters are, on average, earning 224 hours of vacation per year (10 years service, ref. MOU page 25, section 9.3), then their estimated actual 24 hour shifts per week are 2.32, an amount that includes only 3.9 hours of overtime. Holiday coverage is a sacrifice, to be sure, but apart from holidays, it does not appear that Redwood City?s firefighters are working significant amounts of overtime. Yet their median total compensation was $226,365 in 2013. Making these estimates is admittedly a fairly complex exercise and readers are invited to review the calculations on the ?notes? tab of the downloadable spreadsheet ?Redwood City 2013 ? Firefighter Pay Analysis.xlxs,? a document that also shows all original SCO compensation data and the median/average calculations.

Another important variable affecting total compensation are pension contributions made by the employer. It is necessary to make two points on this topic with respect to Redwood City?s firefighters:

(1) ?The Firefighter MOU grants a raise to cover every increase to their payroll withholding for pensions:

To fully appreciate this, read page 33, section 17.3 of the MOU, which covers the calendar years 2013 through 2017. In year 1 (2013), the employees begin to pay 2% towards their pension costs via withholding, and their pay is increased by 2%. In year 2, another 2% is withheld, and another 2% raise is granted. In year 3, another 2% is withheld, and another 2% raise is granted, and in year 4, another 1% is withheld, and a 1% raise is granted. In all, by 2017, Redwood City firefighters will be paying 7% of their pay towards their pensions. As a percent of regular pay, the city (the taxpayers) in 2013 made a 40% pension contribution. That?s 7% (eventually) from the employees to pay for their pension, and 40% from the city. That?s a nearly six-to-one employer match for retirement.

(2) ?The city?s required pension contribution is going up, way up, no matter what.?In February 2015 the California Policy Center published a study entitled ?California City Pension Burdens,? compiling data and projections provided by the various pension systems, including, in this case, CalPERS. Here are some pension facts that confront Redwood City: Their estimated pension contribution in 2015 will be 6.61% of total revenue (all taxes and fees). Their pension contribution between 2015 and 2020 is assumed ? according to CalPERS own projections?? to increase by 54%, which, barring significant increases to employee withholding, means that instead of paying, on average $47,191 per firefighter (that is the 2013 number, the 2015 number is almost certainly higher), they will be paying $72,674 per firefighter. Just to fund their pensions. And barring pay decreases, that will elevate the median total compensation per full-time firefighter to at least $251,848.

All of these numbers are conservative, because in reality the increases to required pension contributions for firefighters will be more than what CalPERS projects for all of Redwood City?s employees, because firefighter pensions are far more expensive than those offered to miscellaneous employees. These numbers are also conservative because Redwood City is almost certainly not adequately funding their ?OPEB? benefit (other post employment benefits), in particular, retirement health insurance (MOU page 49, section 19.2). And, of course, these numbers are grossly understated if you have any doubts regarding CalPERS? ability to earn 7.5% per year through 2020 and beyond.

Asking whether or not California?s taxpayers should be paying firefighters roughly $250,000 per year is a question fraught with controversy. Clearly firefighters deserve a pay premium for the risks they take in their job. But firefighter unions have exploited the well-deserved respect firefighters have earned, and used that in conjunction with their dues revenue, to exert almost irresistible pressure on local politicians.

The rates of total compensation currently earned by Redwood City?s firefighters are by no means unique. Comparable levels of pay and benefits for firefighters are in place throughout California?s cities. When firefighter jobs that pay a quarter-million a year in exchange for slightly?over two 24 hour shifts per week open up, literally thousands of people apply for them. The goal of public safety would be enhanced if we could hire more public safety personnel, firefighters in particular, for less money. But today there is no viable political coalition, anywhere, with the power and will to make that happen.

* ? * ? *

Ed Ring?is the executive director of the?California Policy Center.

CA’s $12.3 Billion in Proposed School Bonds: Borrowing vs. Reform

“As the result of California Courts refusing to uphold the language of the High Speed Rail bonds, the opponents of any bond proposal, at either the state or local level, need only point to High-Speed Rail to remind voters that promises in a voter approved bond proposal are meaningless and unenforceable.”

– ?Jon Coupal, October 26, 2014,?HJTA California Commentary

If that isn’t plain enough – here’s a restatement: California’s politicians can ask voters to approve bonds, announcing the funds will be used for a specific purpose, then they can turn around and do anything they want with the money. And while there’s been a lot of coverage and debate over big statewide bond votes, the real money is in the countless?local?bond issues that collectively now encumber California’s taxpayers with well over?$250 billion in debt.

Over the past few weeks we’ve tried to point out that?local tax increases?- 166 of them on the?November 4th?ballot at last count, tend to be calibrated to raise an amount of new tax revenue that, in too many cases, are suspiciously equal to the amount that pension contributions are going to be raised over the next few years. For three detailed examples of how local tax increases will roughly equal the impending increases to required pension contributions, read about?Stanton,?Palo Alto?and?Watsonville‘s local tax proposals. It is impossible to analyze them all.

As taxes increase, money remains fungible. More money, more options. They can say it’s for anything they want. And apparently, bonds are no better.

At last count, there are 118 local bond measures on the November ballot. And not including three school districts in Fresno County for which the researchers at CalTax are “awaiting more information,” these bonds, collectively, propose $12.4 billion in new debt for California taxpayers. All but six of these bond proposals (representing $112 million) are for schools. Refer to the?list from CalTax?to read a summary of what each of these bonds are for – “school improvements,” “replace leaky roofs,” “repair restrooms,” “repair gas/sewer lines,” “upgrade wiring,” “renovate classrooms,” “make repairs.”

To be fair, there are plenty of examples of new capital investment, “construct a new high school,” for example, but they represent a small fraction of the stated intents. On?November 4th, Californians are being asked to borrow another $12.3 billion to shore up their public school system. They are being asked to pile another $12.3 billion onto over $250 billion of existing local government debt, along with additional hundreds of billions in unfunded retirement obligations for state and local government workers. They are being asked to borrow another $12.3 billion in order to do?deferred maintenance.?We are borrowing money to fix leaky roofs and repair restrooms and sewers. This is a scandal, because for the past 2-3 decades, California’s educational system has been ran for the benefit of unionized educators and unionized construction contractors who work in league with financial firms whose sales tactics and terms of lending would make sharks on Wall Street blush. These special interests have wasted taxpayers money and wasted the educations of millions of children. Their solution? Ask for more money.

Nobody should suggest that California’s public schools don’t require investment and upgrades. But before borrowing more money on the shoulders of taxpayers, why aren’t alternatives considered? Why aren’t educators clamoring for reforms that would cut back on the ratio of administrators to teachers? Why aren’t they admitting that project labor agreements raise the cost to taxpayers for all capital investments and upgrades, and doing something about it? If their primary motivation is the interests of students, why aren’t they supporting the?Vergara ruling?that, if enforced, will improve the quality of teachers in the classroom at no additional cost? Why aren’t they embracing charter schools, institutions whose survival is tied to their ability to produce superior educational outcomes for far less money? Why don’t they question more of these “upgrade” projects? Is it absolutely necessary to carpet every field in artificial turf, a solution that is not only expensive but causes far more injuries to student athletes? Is it necessary to spend tens of millions per school on solar power systems??Does every high school really need a new theater, or science lab? Or do they just need fewer administrators, and better teachers?

And to acknowledge the biggest, sickest elephant in the room – that massive,?teetering colossus called CalSTRS, should teachers, who only spend 180 days per year actually teaching, really be entitled to pensions that?equal 75% of their final salary?after only 30 years, in exchange for salary withholding that?barely exceeds what private employees pay into Social Security? Thanks to unreformed pensions, how many billions in school maintenance money ended up getting invested by CalSTRS in Mumbai, Shanghai, Jakarta, or other business-friendly regions?

How much money would be saved if all these tough reforms were enacted? More importantly, how much would we improve the ability of our public schools to educate the next generation of Californians? Would we still have to borrow another $12.3 billion?

Here’s an excerpt from an online post promoting one of California’s local school bond measures:?“It will help student academic performance, along with ensuring our property values. If you believe that strong schools and strong communities go hand in hand, please vote…”

Unfortunately, such promises are meaningless and unenforceable. The debt is forever.

* ? * ? *

Ed Ring?is the executive director of the?California Policy Center.