When economic times were somewhat better or at least not as unstable, maybe no one paid that much attention to public employee salaries and retirement benefits, except maybe a lot of people thought it might be nice to get a government job.
But now I read in the LA Times that California Gov. Jerry Brown wants to plug a loophole or provision that allows state workers to collect increased retirement benefits for years they did not even work for the state. It’s called “air time”. I don’t need to go into the details because that is not the point here. I’ll just note that the story explained the provision was originally written up on the behalf of staffers for elected office holders who did not draw state wages while they campaigned for their bosses. But in order to make the thing fly, the perk was given to all state employees. It allowed them to buy into a program that was kind of like an annuity you might buy on the private market, only with a lot better payout — a whole lot better, and at the taxpayers‘ expense.
Not to pick on poor former Gov. Gray Davis, but I think the story said that he signed the measure into law after originally opposing it because he needed the votes from the employees in his bid to fight of the recall in which ultimately he was not successful.
But that is definitely how it goes in these things. If you scratch your head and try to figure out what our elected officials were thinking when they granted all these lavish retirement programs to government employees, the answer is that it is a way to get votes.
I first noticed this in local elections in the small (in population) county where I first worked as a newspaper reporter. The only real major local voting block was the local county employees’ association, so candidates for local office always sought to curry favor with them. Kind of ironic, elected representatives of the people look out for government employees (who are of course people too) first and then the regular taxpaying-citizens second.
Once upon a time we were taught that the theory was that government jobs should be stable and the benefits fairly good but in return they might not pay as much as private employment which itself in return could be risky on the stability side.
But over the years salaries and the benefits grew like Topsy in public employment and the public was not paying attention or was considering government employment themselves on an individual basis.
But unless we want to enter into some kind of state socialism, we can’t all work for the government. And even if we did, well, those systems just don’t seem to work over the long run.
And this may be extreme but I think if I could find out which elected officials voted for the most egregious of these over-inflated perks, I’d cast my vote against them where I could in the next election and write them a note telling them why.
You know I probably will not do that … and you know? If I had had any sense I would have gotten a government job in that county where I started as a reporter and would have been retired now…