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Sacrificing 170,000 jobs to pay 55,000 state workers for another year

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POSTED May 5, 2010 2:36 a.m.
Sacramento today wouldn’t be much more than a larger version of Modesto if it wasn’t for one thing – a decision in 1854 by the California Legislature to abandon Benicia and move the seat of state government.

Without the state capitol the economic makeup of Sacramento wouldn’t be much stronger than other major cities in the agriculturally rich Central Valley whether it is Fresno, Bakersfield, Modesto or Stockton. That means Sacramento County would be enjoying unemployment rates pushing 20 percent instead of the 13.1 percent they are at currently.

So how is Sacramento doing better than its sister valley cities? The answer is on your paycheck stub.

Everyone is helping fund for the myriad of services that go beyond basic and the 237,304 state employees needed to keep the bureaucratic blob expanding. And that means everyone from the farmer trying to avoid bankruptcy to private sector workers dealing with reduced hours or – worse yet – lost jobs.

Sacramento has a large concentration of the one group of workers in California pretty much immune from layoffs thanks to the political clout they’ve managed to gain by greasing the campaigns for 120 legislative seats. At the same time every special interest group is yelling bloody murder about possible state cuts which gives legislators the equivalent look of a deer caught in the headlights. Except in this case there are irate special interests and state employees behind the wheel.

So Sacramento politicians do what they do best when faced with a crisis – sidestep the hard decisions.

It explains why the state actually hired more than 21,000 workers last year while local government agencies used retirements and people leaving for other reasons as an opportunity to leave positions vacant given the growing budget crisis for government. The state, by comparison, is down just 1,667 workers. By the time the dust settles in San Jose the state job cuts will be just 600 more than city workers that will have lost their positions in the state’s fourth largest city.

The majority of those 237,304 state workers fill big office building in downtown Sacramento. They are not out doing road maintenance, chasing bad guys, fighting fires, or running state parks. They are – for lack of a better description – pushing paper.

Do we need government regulation and enforcement? Absolutely. Do we need the level of redundancy and sluggish response we have now that is created not by a shortage of manpower but from piling on the bodies and regulations? No we don’t.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly didn’t reprise any of his action hero roles when he chickened out and went with furloughs. He thought he was being the nice guy. In the end state workers only sued to get back pay and their hours restored.

What the governor should have done - and must do – is cut statejobs.

The state shouldn’t be immune from the economic reverberations sweeping California especially when it helped to create part of it thanks to years of trickery dealing with budget shortfalls and outright refusal to live within its means.

Schwarzenegger’s spokesman Aaron McLear was quoted by the Associated Press Tuesday after a court sided with his boss on the state’s ability to steal $2 billion in redevelopment agency money that, “we dodged a bullet.”

Of course by dodging the bullet the action hero in Sacramento sacrificed the private sector folks struggling to make ends meet.

By the state’s own multipliers, the seizure of $2 billion in RDA money will cost 170,000 jobs as it represents $2 billion that won’t be going into public infrastructure and redevelopment projects. Essentially the action governor sacrificed 170,000 private sector jobs so paychecks could keep flowing to 55,000 state bureaucrats.

Worse yet, those 170,000 private sector jobs would have stimulated economies in places suffering greatly such as Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton, and Modesto by creating more jobs.

What local taxpayers in RDA project areas in those cities and elsewhere in California will get is the satisfaction knowing they paid to protect 55,000 state jobs – mostly in Sacramento – and kept the private sector economy from being ravaged as much in Sacramento as it has been in Fresno, Stockton, Bakersfield, and Modesto.
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