Saturday, July 31, 2010

Will California learn its fiscal lessons?

I came across a wonderful article from the always impressive Steve Malanga of the Manhattan Institute's City Journal online magazine (see blogroll).

In Malanga's latest expose, he takes on the near-fatal damage that public sector employee unions have wrought in my late great state of California. Malanga takes on the big three: the public safety unions, the teachers union, and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). You can read the article, but I will highlight what Malanga has to say about the teachers union, namely the California Teachers Association (CTA). I don't belong to this union, but they still take approximately $700 out of my paycheck every year.
Consider the California Teachers Association. Much of the CTA’s clout derives from the fact that, like all government unions, it can help elect the very politicians who negotiate and approve its members’ salaries and benefits. Soon after Proposition 13 became law, the union launched a coordinated statewide effort to support friendly candidates in school-board races, in which turnout is frequently low and special interests can have a disproportionate influence. In often bitter campaigns, union-backed candidates began sweeping out independent board members. By 1987, even conservative-leaning Orange County saw 83 percent of board seats up for grabs going to union-backed candidates. The resulting change in school-board composition made the boards close allies of the CTA.

But with union dues somewhere north of $1,000 per member and 340,000 members, the CTA can afford to be a player not just in local elections but in Sacramento, too (and in Washington, for that matter, where it’s the National Education Association’s most powerful affiliate)...

he rise of the white-collar CTA provides a good example of a fundamental political shift that took place everywhere in the labor movement. In the aftermath of World War II, at the height of its influence, organized labor was dominated by private workers; as a result, union members were often culturally conservative and economically pro-growth. But as government workers have come to dominate the movement, it has moved left. By the mid-nineties, the CTA was supporting causes well beyond its purview as a collective bargaining agent for teachers. In 1994, for instance, it opposed an initiative that prohibited illegal immigrants from using state government programs and another that banned the state from recognizing gay marriages performed elsewhere. Some union members began to complain that their dues were helping to advance a political agenda that they disagreed with. “They take our money and spend it as they see fit,” says Larry Sand, founder of the California Teachers Empowerment Network, an organization of teachers and former teachers opposed to the CTA’s noneducational politicking...
In the name of full disclosure, I am a member of the California Teachers Empowerment Network (CTEN - see blogroll), and I am glad to see my colleague, Larry Sand, quoted in this important article.

Mr. Malanga goes on about the role of the CTA in my state's current financial woes:
The second budget-busting deal of the Davis era was the work of the teachers’ union. In 2000, the CTA began lobbying to have a chunk of the state’s budget surplus devoted to education. In a massive rally in Sacramento, thousands of teachers gathered on the steps of the capitol, some chanting for TV cameras, “We want money! We want money!” Behind the scenes, Davis kept up running negotiations with the union over just how big the pot should be. “While you were on your way to Sacramento, I was driving there the evening of May 7, and the governor and I talked three times on my cell phone,” CTA president Wayne Johnson later boasted to members. “The first call was just general conversation. The second call, he had an offer of $1.2 billion. . . . On the third call, he upped the ante to $1.5 billion.” Finally, in meetings, both sides agreed on $1.84 billion. As Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters later observed, that deal didn’t merely help blow the state’s surplus; it also locked in higher baseline spending for education. The result: “When revenues returned to normal, the state faced a deficit that eventually not only cost Davis his governorship in 2003 but has plagued his successor, Arnold Schwarzenegger...”
I again urge you to read the rest of this important article. Even if you don't live in California, it serves as a cold reminder of what can easily happen in your state if you let your legislature become the pawns of the public sector unions, and it also serves to remind us what has happened to our federal legislature as well.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free... it expects what never was, and never will be." -Thomas Jefferson


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