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Sacramento needs to shed 47,400 state jobs in next 12 months

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POSTED July 5, 2010 2:08 a.m.
With all due respect to F. Scott Fitzgerald, state workers are different than you and me.

The latest move by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to try to bring a dose of reality to the never-ending fantasy world of Sacramento spending is to roll back 200,000 state workers to the federal minimum wage of $7.25 until such time a balanced budget is passed by the California Legislature.

The California 3rd District Court of Appeals has sided with Schwarzenegger saying state Controller John Chiang cannot ignore the governor’s order. The ruling is based on a 2003 state supreme court decision that state employees do not have a right to their full salaries if a state budget isn’t in place. The ruling also made it clear the state can’t ignore federal minimum wage laws.

Chiang’s response to the court order is that his department doesn’t have to comply with the ruling if it’s practically infeasible to do so. Remember that line the next time you owe the state income tax or DMV tags and it is “practically infeasible” to pay them because you lack the money. Bet it wouldn’t work for you or I.

Chiang’s department has been, to put it impolitely, inept at installing a new computerized payroll system that would make complying with such an order fairly easy. The legislature in 2005 gave his office $130 million to overhaul the state’s payroll system. The work on the project has been postponed repeatedly by Chiang’s office over the past few years. Anyone in the business world that ran a payroll department that did that would have been sacked years ago for not being able to deliver a project on time. Maybe Meg Whitman does have a point.

There are, by the way, 37,000 state workers who will still receive full pay. It is because they have negotiated new contracts with the state that are like the one CHP officers agreed to that has pay cuts as well as pension reforms.

The other state worker unions apparently believe the budget crisis is either a myth or else today’s economic reality applies only to private sector workers and not to them.

For starters, the union representatives keep clamoring for new taxes to protect their jobs. That would be akin to the United Auto Workers demanding their employers increase the price of cars so they can avoid layoffs when the revenue isn’t there due to a drop in sales.

Layoffs, now there is a concept. If Schwarzenegger and the legislature did their jobs there would be massive layoffs in Sacramento to adhere to the quaint philosophy of “living within one’s means.”

Labor costs are a big factor in the cost of doing business whether it is the private sector or the government.

State workers are right. They shouldn’t be worried about how to make ends meet for a few weeks or a month or so on minimum wage until such time a budget is adopted. Once that happens they will receive their full back pay. But if they switched to credit unions that specialize in serving state employees, they will be able to get interest free loans to cover the gap between minimum wage and their actual pay.

In the private sector, if you get your pay slashed or hours cut you take it on the chin. There is no one helping you and certainly you don’t receive back pay once the economy rebounds.

There is little doubt that there are many hard working state workers and that includes those who you may argue push paper for things that we can do without.

That isn’t the point as there are certainly a ton of hardworking private sector workers out there who have bit the dust in this economy.

If you are working for ACME Computers and news came down they had a $19 billion deficit, you’d expect to worry big time about job losses. Not state workers. They are programmed to believe they have an inalienable right to a paycheck no matter what. It’s because, some of them like to say, that they took low paying and less glamorous jobs in exchange for security and better benefits.

A funny thing happened on the way to three consecutive massive multi-billion deficits. State workers as a whole are paid better than their private sector counterparts, have better benefits and - apparently - have jobs for life.

It is time to restructure government, eliminate repetitive bureaucracies and questionable government services, rethink how work is done and shed positions. Getting rid of 20 percent of the state work force or 47,400 state jobs in the next year would be a good start.
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