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The unreality of California budget negotiations

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Gov. Brown’s “concessions” from public unions have, as usual in the convoluted, interminable, and deeply opaque process by which California eventually stumbles to a budget agreement, turned out to be less of a cut than what state employees are experiencing under their current expired contract.  But since it’s less than what they would have received under a mythical no budget cut situation, it counts as a decrease even though state employees will actually be making more. Ouch, this makes my brain hurt, make it stop.

Currently, most employees have an effective 15% pay cut because of three unpaid furlough days per month. Under Gov. Brown’s proposal, their pay cut will amount to 10%. Yet somehow, in the fantasy world of California budget speak, this amounts to a pay cut rather than a marginal increase.  What’s worse, after all this effort, the supposed savings will be a hundred million or so. This is a rounding error in the current deficit of $15.6 billion.

A cousin is a sales tax auditor for California. She works hard, is nowhere close to being overpaid, and struggles to get by like many others.  Can you imagine working in an environment where your pay and hours are always changing while many on the outside assume you’re wallowing at the public trough? I’m sure morale at state agencies must just be soaring now. The problem isn’t the employees but an utterly dysfunctional legislative process that is incapable of accomplishing timely and rational decisions on budget matters, as well as being beholden to various corporate and union interests.

The Republicans are as adrift as the Democrats, castaways from the Land of Logic, with their magical belief that by saying the budget can be balanced without tax increases, this automatically makes it so. Reality is not permitted to intrude.

Let’s parse Gov. Brown’s state labor proposals, shall we? The text in italics is from the Sacramento Bee.

Workers pay more toward their pensions, but top-step employees get an offsetting raise in two years on the contracts’ last day.

Translation: The top cats are immune from all this nonsense because they cut themselves a special deal.

Two paid holidays are erased from the state calendar, but they’re replaced by two floating paid days off.

How does replacing two days of vacation with two days of vacation save money?

The contracts call for 12 unpaid days off spread over a year but end the three-day-per-month furlough program in place since early 2009.

How does replacing 36 furlough days a year with 12 furlough days a year save money?

The deals also lower pension benefits for new hires, but that change won’t appreciably affect the state budget for many years.

Translation: We’ll dropkick the problem down the road a few years and pretend we’ve done something about it now.

This is all just smoke and mirrors, which at best will result in a tiny savings compared to the massive size of the deficit. Nothing has changed with the new Brown Administration. A sense of unreality still pervades Sacramento.

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