If California voters grant the state government the massive income-tax and sales-tax increases that Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats have been demanding via November's Proposition 30, those same officials will quickly squander the money by shoveling even more benefits to those already well-compensated government workers.
For evidence, pay close attention to a police- and firefighter-union enrichment scam that came within a whisker of becoming law.
Even in its watered-down form, AB2451 would have opened the state's cities and municipalities to an endless amount of liabilities for the families of deceased police and firefighters. The legislation also revealed the surreptitious way benefits are expanded in California, as unions work the system to quietly gain significant compensation hikes. It proves that legislators have in no way reformed their free-spending ways, despite a veto.
In the private sector, employees typically receive injury and death benefits through insurance policies, and such benefits are linked to work performed on the job. In "public safety" jobs in the public sector, taxpayers foot the bill for disability and death benefits. Politicians—always currying favor with the unions that represent police, firefighters, and prison guards—continually expand the categories of illness that are presumed to be caused by job-related injuries.
So if a retired firefighter or cop gets heart disease, cancer, or any number of other common diseases late in life, it is presumed to be caused by the job and that releases a stream of taxpayer-funded benefits. Under current law, if that employee dies from myriad ailments within four-and-a-half years after the date of injury, the family can receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in survivorship benefits. In the public sector, it's far easier to make a claim than in the private sector.
Apparently, this wasn't generous enough for Assembly Speaker John Perez and the Democratic leadership. They came up with a plan that allows family members of deceased police and firefighters to claim more than $300,000 in survivorship benefits up to a year after the person's death, no matter how old that retired public-safety official may be.
The bill also specified the ailments that are considered "hero ailments"—deaths cause by working as a cop or firefighter. These include: hernia, pneumonia, heart trouble, cancer and leukemia, tuberculosis, blood-borne infectious diseases, and certain skin infections.
As the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office, summarizing arguments against the bill by local governments, explained: "Thus, any retired safety officer who dies in his or her 80's or 90's of a cancer or heart related condition would be presumed to have a work-related cause, and his or her dependents would be entitled to a death benefit. But with the incidence of cancer and heart conditions as the cause of death for many elderly people, the causation for someone 20, 30, or more years removed from service is much more debatable."
The legislation was amended to "merely" expand the time in which a benefit claim can be made to nine years after injury. It removed a couple of the presumptions from the list, but this still would have been a costly and ridiculous giveaway and provides insight into how legislators think.
Still, it passed overwhelmingly. It even had some original support from Republicans, until Jon Fleischman of the Republican-oriented Flashreport Web site and others started waving the red flags and GOP support evaporated.
"What is needed is rational, thoughtful consideration of balancing the serious fiscal constraints faced at all levels of government against our shared priority to adequately and fairly compensate the families of those public safety heroes who succumb to work-related injuries and disease," Gov. Brown said in his on-point veto message.
But Brown is not so much a born-again fiscal conservative, as someone so committed to the Prop. 30 tax hike plan that he will not give opponents any ammunition to use against it. As the Sacramento Bee reported, "Larry Gerston, a government professor at San Jose State University, said that Brown's moderation in bill signings points to a much larger goal: passing Proposition 30, his multibillion-dollar tax hike, in November."
Brown reminds me of the kid who is on his best behavior—i.e., cleaning his room and cutting the lawn—to prove to Mom and Dad that he deserves that new bicycle. Don't figure the new habits to continue long after he gets what he wants.
AB 2451 is built on the fiction, perpetrated by unions eager to use emotional claims to divert more tax dollars to their members, that police officers and firefighters have such dangerous jobs that they die early and leave their families destitute.
But based on data from the California Public Employees' Retirement System, the longest-living category of public employee is a police officer, followed closely behind by firefighters. They live, on average, well into their 80s, which is one of the reasons the state has such a large unfunded pension liability. Public-safety workers receive, by far, the most generous pension and health-care benefits. In California, they can retire with 90 percent of their final year's pay at age 50—and spouses receive generous benefits too. Police and firefighters don't come near the top of the Bureau of Labor Statistics' most-dangerous jobs.
The Democrats are always talking about shared sacrifice, yet the same-old, same-old takes place in the Capitol—powerful interest groups keep pushing for, and often getting, more.
The state is out of cash. Brown reminds us of that every chance he can. Cities are teetering on bankruptcy, thanks largely to pensions, medical benefits, and other compensation paid to municipal employees. Taxpayers and job-creators are fleeing the state. Legislators should be reforming the system so that California can be competitive again. Instead, they want to keep comforting the comfortable (union members) and afflicting the afflicted (taxpayers).
Yes, Brown vetoed some of the worst nonsense, but AB 2451 shows you what the Legislature will do when it has more money and no one is looking. Is it wise to give them more funds?