The Right Opinion
Pay Up - Or Else
Here are a couple of paragraphs from two stories about the city of Sacramento, California that ought to be required reading, not only for everyone in that state, but anywhere else government resorts to extortion to protect the status quo. And make no mistake: it is extortion, because the taxpaying public is being presented with a series of false either-or choices regarding the government's to fiscal solvency in many communities. This is one variation of a theme that should have a familiar ring to many of you.
Story number one from Fox News:
"Budgets are so tight in Sacramento that the city's firefighters are considering charging residents for some of their services."
"According to FOX 40, the firefighters presented a study to the City Council Tuesday that proposes a $100 fee for ambulance rides. It also proposes fees for responding to false alarms, responding to drug or alcohol-related vehicle accidents and rescuing someone who broke the law."
"The California city is trying to close a $16 million budget gap."
Got it? The city is so broke that services taxpayers thought they were already paying for could become surcharges. And not frilly services. Essential services, like firefighters in this case but, as many people know from their experiences in other towns and cities across the country, cops here, garbage pickup there, etc. etc.
There's a reason for this, of course. You can't scare taxpayers by telling them they have to pony up more dough, or the city will be forced to eliminate such things as middle-management jobs, human resource and/or "diversity" positions, waste, or totally unnecessary duplication of services. You can't threaten them with consolidating upper-management jobs, such as having school superintendents making solid six figure salaries run two school districts instead of one. No siree. It's got to be basic stuff, like yanking out 15 percent of the streetlights in Rockford, Illinois, or completely halting government service such as road repairs, police patrols, street lights, and garbage collection, like they're doing in 20 percent of Detroit.
Which brings us to story number two, one that goes a long way towards explaining why Sacramento is $16 million south of solvency:
"In terms of basic pay, the 'base hourly earnings' of Sacramento's firefighters was $74,000 per year. Overtime, on average only added $10K to that total, which suggests that -- at least in Sacramento's case -- overtime is not creating a crippling additional burden to the department expenses. But when you add 'incentive earnings,' 'holiday payoff,' 'other earnings,' 'sick payoff,' 'other payoffs,' and 'vacation payoff' to the total, the average firefighter in Sacramento makes $101K per year. This does not include health and retirement benefits, however."
"Calculating the value of current benefits is relatively easy, particularly if you simply want to pick a conservative number. In the firefighters labor contract, health insurance benefits are covered up to a maximum of $1,200 per month, and after 20 years of service, the City pays 100% of this coverage for life. The City also pays a uniform reimbursement of $871 per year, tuition reimbursement of up to $1,500 per year, along with life insurance, and subsidized parking or subsidized mass transit benefits. There are certainly other benefits not identified in a relatively cursory review of the 81 page labor agreement Sacramento's firefighters are under, but it is fair to assume the value of current benefits averages about $12,000 per year, raising the total compensation for the average Sacramento firefighter to $113K per year. But we haven't yet accounted for the current year funding requirements for future benefits, such as retirement health and pension payments..."
The rest of the article gets into advanced calculations, but suffice it to say that what it costs the city for each fireman is $180,000 per year.
The Sacramento Bee has a handy chart for those who are even more curious. It shows what the average salary is for either police or firemen in every county of the state -- in 2010, which explains the slight discrepancy between the above firefighter salary of $74,000 per year and the listing here of $72,084. And let's not single out firefighters. In 2010, the average salary of a Sacramento policeman -- again, not including benefits, pensions or other perks -- was $83,442.
The average salary for Californians as a whole? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it was $49,550 in 2009.
Oddly enough, "16" is a magic number in California -- as in, if you multiply the $16 million budget shortfall in Sacramento by one thousand, you get the total of $16 billion that represents the current budget deficit for the state. And sure enough, Governor Jerry Brown, wastes no time in explaining what would happen if Californians don't vote to raise their own taxes in November. "This means that we will have to go much further, and make cuts far greater, than I asked for at the beginning of the year," said Brown. "But we can't fill a hole of this magnitude with cuts alone without doing severe damage to our schools."
Not "damage" to bloated public sector salaries and benefits. Or the billions of dollars spent catering to an illegal population, numbering in the millions. Not "damage" to the insane environmental restrictions that have turned some of the most fertile farmland in the nation into a dust bowl, and the unconscionable levels of unemployment that accompany it.
Schools. Or, as I put it at the beginning of this column, a false choice that amounts to extortion.
You have to wonder how much longer the American public is willing to be blackmailed by spineless government officials who won't even identify the real problems, must less confront them.