Pay Hikes Result in a Happy New Year for State Workers

Money

In a recent column, I commented on how joyous the holiday season would be for members of the state Legislature and our constitutional officers who are seeing a 4 percent increase in their pay. California lawmakers were already the highest paid in the nation.

But as the song says, you ain’t seen nothing yet. In a state the U.S. Department of Labor rates as first in pay for state and local government workers, one of the largest public sector unions has negotiated a pay raise of up to 19 percent for many of its members. Union leaders claim that many of the jobs their members perform are in high demand and, without the increases, employees will be lured away to the private sector. Therefore, a 19 percent increase for “financial experts” currently making between $7,300 and $10,000 per month, is warranted. However, everyone has been invited to the party. Even janitors will be getting an extra 3 percent on top of the standard 4 percent that has been negotiated for all the represented workers.

Other unionized employees, now negotiating pay increases with the state, will likely see similar raises. And it is important to mention that most of these “public servants” are receiving health care and pension benefits that most in the private sector can only dream of.

In November, voters said yes to new taxes and to the continuation of the highest income tax rates in the nation. The expensive campaigns that put these measures over the top were funded primarily by public sector unions, so it is not hard to guess where the bulk of the tax revenue will be going. Instead of state government providing more and better services, most of the funds will go to paying for raises for government workers. And let’s not forget the need to fund nearly a trillion dollars in unfunded pension liabilities for which taxpayers will be picking up the tab.

This is not to lose sight of the fact that many public employees work hard and provide valuable service. Most citizens want to see these employees fairly compensated for good work.

However, because government holds a monopoly on most of the services it provides — there is no competition or alternative — much of the work actually provided is subpar. Anyone who must use government services cannot imagine that these across the board raises state employees are receiving are based on merit.

There are those who will justify the additional money as cost-of-living increases. But cost of living increases are based on inflation, which has been minimal due to the sluggish economy. Just ask Social Security recipients, who will receive an increase in their benefits of 0.3 percent (three-tenths of 1 percent) for the coming year. This translates to about a $4 monthly increase for the average retiree, or about $48 per year. Had the average recipient, who must get by on $1,355 each month, been granted a 4 percent increase (the minimum for so many state employees) their monthly checks would bump up almost $55, or $660 annually.

But we shouldn’t have to argue over how much government employees should be paid. Since union leadership worries that the private sector will hire valuable workers away unless they are paid more, why not let them go? In the private sector, they can join or establish companies that can bid on doing the work currently performed by government employees. Let them pay themselves whatever they want, but they will have to bid on doing the work they now perform on the taxpayers’ dime. Government will hire the lowest qualified bidder and if their service is topnotch, they will keep their contracts. If not, the governor and Legislature can move on and engage another bidder.

As the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo — a Democrat and father of the current New York Governor — stated several decades ago, “It is not a government’s obligation to provide services but to see that they are provided.”

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by HJTA.org

What Has Howard Jarvis Done for Me Lately?

Howard-JarvisMany of those under 50 do not remember tax revolt leader Howard Jarvis, who passed away 30 years ago, and yet, perhaps unknowingly, they are benefiting from his legacy. Proposition 13, which limits property taxes and allows local voters to have the final say on new taxes, was Howard’s gift to all Californians.

By limiting annual increases, Proposition 13 makes property taxes predictable from year to year. This doesn’t just benefit senior citizen homeowners on fixed incomes who worry about losing their homes to the tax collector. It benefits all homeowners. For example, a family who bought their home just five years ago in 2011, at the typical price that year of $286,000, has already seen significant tax savings. Today, the median sales price is close to $509,000 according to the California Association of Realtors. That’s a 79 percent increase. Under the property tax system that preceded Proposition 13, which was based on current value, the family who bought their home in 2011, would see their property taxes nearly double in a few short years.

Without Proposition 13, that family who struggled to buy a home in the first place, would find themselves struggling to keep their house in an overheated real estate market. Because of Proposition 13, which limits annual assessed value increases to two percent and then applies a tax rate of one percent to the total, the family will pay $3,084 this year, not $5,090, which would be the case if there were no limit on annual increases.

But even this example understates the importance of Proposition 13 to the average property owner. You see, before Proposition 13 imposed a one percent tax rate, the statewide average was 2.6 percent — in some counties it was as high as four percent. So, without Proposition 13, our recent home buying family would actually be paying $13,234 in annual taxes.

The old system guaranteed constant increasing revenue to government but did not take into consideration property owners’ ability to pay.  Even when home values declined, there was no relief for taxpayers because county boards of supervisors, city councils and local special districts could arbitrarily raise the tax rate to raise revenue.

Proposition 13 was designed to make property ownership secure for all Californians. But Howard Jarvis also wanted to make sure that the Legislature, which refused to provide tax relief when average folks were losing their homes, did not come back with new ways to punish taxpayers. The measure also requires a two-thirds vote of state lawmakers to increase state taxes and provides voters the final say on new local taxes.

Government employee unions, left wing progressives and even crony capitalists who all opposed Proposition 13 when it was on the ballot, are still complaining. They point to all the money that government has been denied because of Proposition 13 and claim that problems ranging from poverty to academic performance are due to the measure’s passage. Of course, these accusations fly in the face of facts. Even with Proposition 13, California ranks in the top 6 of all 50 states in per capital tax burden, and, according to the Department of Labor, we have the highest paid state and local employees. Add to this, after adjusting for inflation, we spend more money per pupil than prior to Proposition 13.

Those who do not remember the Tax Revolt of 1978, will be interested to know that much of the voter anger that fueled the passage of Proposition 13 was directed at insiders who benefited from the status quo. This frustration with members of the political class and their powerful special interest allies is very similar to what we are seeing in America, today.

After the passage of Proposition 13, Time Magazine featured Howard Jarvis shaking his fist on the cover of their June 19, 1978 issue. Howard went on to chronicle his 16-year effort to reform taxes in his book, I’m Mad as Hell. If he were with us today, he would be the foremost critic of government that is run for the benefit of insiders and ignores the concerns of average citizens, like those who lived in fear of losing their homes before Proposition 13.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

This piece was originally published by the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association