In Santa Barbara County, the 2017-2018 budget calls for laying off nearly 70 employees while dipping into reserve funds. The biggest cuts are to the Department of Social Services, which works to aid low-income families and senior citizens. Meanwhile, $546 million of needed infrastructure improvements go unfunded as Santa Barbara County struggles to pay off $700 million in unfunded pension liabilities. County officials estimate that increasing pension costs may cause hundreds of future layoffs. Unfortunately, Santa Barbara County is far from alone. Tuolumne County is issuing layoffs in the face of rising labor and pension costs from previous agreements. In Kern County, a budget shortfall spurred by increased pension costs has led to public safety layoffs, teacher shortages, budget cuts, and the elimination of the Parks and Recreation department, even as Kern County’s unfunded pension liability surpasses $2 billion. In the Santa Ana Unified School District, nearly 300 teachers have been laid off after years of receiving pay raises that made them unaffordable, including a 10% raise in 2015.
But despite the upbeat rhetoric, a crisis is looming in the nation’s second-largest school district as enrollment falls from a projected 514,000 in 2017 to 480,000 in 2020. Since the state’s main education funding formula is based on average daily attendance, this could force mass layoffs of teachers or even drastic measures like shortening the school year. A $422 million deficit is anticipated in 2019-20, with red ink after that for as far as the eye can see. None of this comes as any surprise. A blue-ribbon commission’s report issued in November 2015 said L.A. Unified was facing fiscal disaster because of the enrollment declines, which are primarily due to falling birth rates, and because of the cost of pensions and retiree health care benefits. Employee retirement benefits will claim 8 percent of the school budget in 2017-18 and more than double that sum in coming years as the state’s 2014 bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System ratchets up required payments from districts and as more of the district’s aging workforce retires.
On first blush, the latest effort by Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislators to give public-employee unions access to public agencies to hold “orientation” seminars with new hires is an unfair special privilege not normally provided to private groups. It’s even more disturbing that the legislation authorizing such access is being rammed through the Legislature in a secretive manner without the full hearing and vetting process.
But critics of this brazen example of union muscle-flexing should take heed. It’s the latest reminder that even public-employee unions understand that the world is about to change. It’s only a matter of time before they lose a key to their enduring power: the current system by which public employees are forced to pay dues to their respective unions, even if they have no desire to give a large chunk of their paychecks to these unions.
Four years ago, Los Angeles’ elected officials wrested major financial concessions from the Department of Water and Power’s biggest and most powerful employee union, persuading those workers to go three years without raises. City budget officials billed the agreement as a road map for negotiations with its other employee groups. Soon afterward, several other unions agreed to postpone pay increases for one or more years. Now a new salary package, backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti and heading to the City Council next week, would give six raises in five years to thousands of DWP workers. That could spur other unions to seek a similar deal, placing new burdens on a city budget already under significant stress.
All California’s agencies conduct important work that protects and provides for the public, and all are held accountable to the people by conducting the SRIA. Cal/OSHA’s process is not different and does not warrant a special exemption. SB 772 excuses Cal/OSHA from this important analysis, allowing regulations having a significant impact on the economy to avoid the close scrutiny that would reveal their true costs and any unintended consequences.
The bill’s proponents suggest that the cost and benefit analysis of a regulation is completely satisfied by the debate in the Legislature, advisory meetings, and the public notice and comment process required by the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). This is not true – The regular rulemaking process does not adequately address economic impacts and alternative policy approaches.