Also featured at the Orange County Register
The governor and the Democrats who control the state Legislature are doing their level best these days to convince us that they are reforming California government enough to justify voters approving a $47 billion increase in income and sales taxes. The governor's reforms, which he continues to cite, include cutting cell phones and take-home vehicles for state workers, along with some minor tweaks and trimming of some state government agencies and boards.
But the governor and legislative Democrats continue to ignore the elephant in the room: The skyrocketing costs of public employee pensions. The governor has had many chances to push for the 12-point public pension reform plan, which he outlined last year and which legislative Republicans introduced in bill form earlier this year. But he has failed to act.
With the passing of the deadline to place pension reform on the ballot, the governor missed a golden opportunity to bring about changes and reforms that voters have been demanding. These are the same pension reforms that legislative Democrats have kept bottled up in committee, refusing a discussion or a vote.
What happened to the governor's call for public-employee pension reform?
Instead of reading about actions that the governor is taking to bring about badly needed reform and save money, voters are instead treated to daily news stories about rising pay for California State University presidents and a never-ending rise in tuition at state universities.
Instead of reading about the governor taking action to end systemic abuses in our public pension system, we instead read headlines about unauthorized vacation buyouts at the California Department of Parks and Recreation.
The governor is choosing, instead, to champion his $47 billion tax hike, while ignoring reports that the California Public Employees' Retirement System earned just 1 percent on its investments during the 2011-12. That's not even close to the 7.75 percent CalPERS projected.
Even after describing his pension reform plan as a "minimum," the governor hasn't pushed legislative Democrats once to implement his reforms or take any concrete action to control spiraling costs. Every delay is costing taxpayer money. Our current public employee pensions systems are simply unsustainable. The governor's own Department of Finance says pension costs will consume $4.8 billion of state spending during the current budget year, and that amount will only continue to grow.
Without any reform, the growing costs of public pensions will place an even greater threat on funding core services such as schools, transportation, public safety, health care and programs to help the disabled and elderly.
The governor remains focused on trying to solve every problem with higher taxes and continued spending.
Voters in San Jose and San Diego have already overwhelmingly voted to reform their own public pension plans. There is a desire for reform and change. Cities like San Bernardino, Stockton and Vallejo are drowning in so much red ink, in part from unsustainable benefits, that they've been forced into bankruptcy.
Getting people back to work into true tax-producing jobs will do more to balance the budget than a $47 billion tax hike. While the governor should be commended for taking cost cutting actions such as confiscating cell phones from state employees, it's not enough. Far more can be done to save taxpayer money.
Absent these real reforms why should we trust government with another dime of our money?