Ron Kaye: It'll be hell to pay when the bills come due

PoliticsLifestyle and LeisurePublic OfficialsJoel AndersonOccupy Wall StreetRepublican Party

I don't know about you, but I've been through a lot in my life and I've never seen anything like this — and it isn't at all like seeing an elephant fly.

Our elected officials must think we are all “Dumbos” and will somehow go along with higher taxes, even though the basic problem is not being fixed: government costs too much and delivers too little.

Personally, I would be happy to pay more in taxes, but I have to ask the same questions of Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Legislature that I would ask a friend who got into financial trouble during this dark and dreary recession because he was living beyond his means for a long time.

Is your house in order? If I give you money, will it get you back into a sound financial footing, or are you just hoping to buy a little time — and some lottery tickets — to straighten things out?

For four years now, we have seen that the state, the city of Los Angeles and many others cities and counties have cooked the books, juggled funds, borrowed heavily, deferred costs and taken minimal steps to be able to fool voters, and themselves, into believing the lie that their budgets are balanced.

Even cities like Burbank, Glendale and Pasadena — which are more affluent and far better managed than most — face reducing services to the public, and raising rates and fees wherever they can, to stave off the toughest decisions in hopes the economic recovery will save them from dealing with the reality of a “new normal” of slow, or even no, growth.

If there is a “new normal” evolving, as many economists believe, than how in the world are we going to pay the salaries of our public employees and the mammoth pensions and benefits guaranteed by the state constitution to current and future retirees?

Only tepid reforms that buy time have been put in place — less costly benefits to new employees if there are any, increased contributions for existing workers — leaving a massive wall of hundreds of billions of dollars in what are called “unfunded liabilities,” when they mean future costs us “Dumbos” are liable for.

It is a testament to the paralysis of politicians that Republicans are mostly silent about how to fix California. Even a conservative state senator like Joel Anderson of Alpine County can propose no better a solution than to reduce the pay of the thousands of state employees, including judges and University of California employees, who make more than the governor's $173,987 annual paycheck. (Even L.A. City Council members and other L.A. elected officials are paid more than the governor).

On the left, a coalition described by City Journal commentator Ben Boychuk as “civil rights attorney Molly Munger, a misfit coalition of union bitter-enders, Occupy Wall Street socialists,” are pushing forward with gathering an initiative that would soak everybody but the poorest among us.

For his part, the governor has backed off his own proposal to join with the powerful California Teachers Assn. and many legislative Democrats in a “soak-the-rich-more-than-everybody-else” scheme.

It's for the kids, they say, to restore cuts and avoid harsher ones because they deserve a good education. Yet, as we have seen for so long, the rules in most teacher contracts work against achieving that goal by protecting poor teachers and failing to reward high achievers.

It's for the cops, they say, to protect you from being raped, robbed and murdered by the thousands of state prison inmates being released prematurely. Yet the reason it costs more to keep an inmate in state prison than the average Californian earns in a year is because of sweetheart contracts with the guards who take legislators to Hawaii to party once a year.

Well, the party's over.

Unless we really are as dumb as they think we are, there will be no tax hike measures approved in November, no matter how big the Obama landslide in California.

Revenues are down by billions. Spending is higher than what is budgeted. For the Legislature's majority, further cuts are unthinkable. Schools and other agencies don't want to face reality.

The bills will come due one of these days, and when they do, there will be hell to pay.

RON KAYE can be reached at kayeron@aol.com. Share your thoughts and stories with him.

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