Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers  Association

A recent political cartoon showed an obese pig (representing unions) gorging itself on food. He is speaking to a skeleton, (representing taxpayers) and saying, “All you need to do is tighten your belt.” 

That pretty much sums up the way things are in California.  Public employee unions are riding roughshod over taxpayers who, from the perspective of the unions, are nothing more than birds to be plucked.

In California, many political outcomes are determined in advance because   the game is rigged.  Because unions effectively negotiate their fat   contracts with themselves (government) the process of collective   bargaining has been turned on its head.  As in Las Vegas, the house   always ends up the winner.

Bargaining with yourself works out well, right up until the point when   the private sector can no longer afford these extravagant demands.  Then   your government benefactors become your enemies.  Data gathered from   the Franchise Tax Board and Board of Equalization shows that it takes 25   taxpayers making the average private sector salary of $55,000 to fund   the average state employee who makes $90,000, including benefits.  With   12.6% unemployment rate and $20 billion budget deficit, the   unsustainability of this situation is self evident.

A new front has been opened in the battle over excessive union influence   and it is being fought locally. In 2008, the City of Vallejo filed for   bankruptcy seeking to get out from under massive debt and pension   obligations it could no longer afford.  Rather than work with local   governments to help municipalities maintain solvency, unions are   attempting a brazen power play that strips away municipality budgeting   control and is the clearest example yet of unions utter failure to   recognize the plight of taxpayers in our struggling economy.

Union backed Assembly Bill 155 (Assemblyman Tony Mendoza) AB 155 says   that a state agency, the California Debt and Investment Advisory   Commission (CDIAC) would have to first approve any municipal bankruptcy   filing, despite having no expertise in bankruptcy law.  The Commission   could also mandate that labor contracts be kept whole as a condition of   approving a filing. The result will be yet another unelected state   government agency dictating fiscal policy to local government.

AB 155 is a very big deal to the unions and they have pulled out all the   stops to jam it through the Legislature.  The bill was originally held   and stopped in the Senate Local Government committee last year because   the swing Democrat vote, Lois Wolk, refused to ignore the broader  public  interest.  For this, she was removed from the committee by the  union  controlled Senate leader, Darrell Steinberg, and replaced by Mark   DeSaulnier who authored the same bill last year. This switch  guaranteed  the passage of AB 155, and its likely transition to the  Governor’s desk.

Of course, part of the blame for all this must also fall on local   governments who  willingly acquiesced in giving these inflated   compensation packages despite repeated warnings from taxpayer groups for   more than two decades.

To be clear, municipal bankruptcies should be avoided because the long   term fallout to communities can be severe.  But local governments must   be able to control their finances and access to all the tools necessary   to restore their fiscal health. By eliminating an effective management   tool, AB 155 will severely curtail the ability of cities, counties, and   special districts to provide basic services to their residents. If the   choice is between that and voiding a fiscally bankrupting union   contract, we’ll take the former every time.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers  Association –   California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to  the  protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’  rights.