The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

April 7, 2010
State worker responds to Bee editorial on furloughs

Franchise Tax Board employee, SEIU Local 1000 activist and prolific State Worker blog commenter Kevin Menager recently sent this e-mail our way. It's his reaction to a recent Bee editorial, "Furloughs have run their course."

We're posting Menager's e-mail with no edits. He's speaks for himself, not his employer or his union:

In its March 27 editorial, "Furloughs have run their course", The Sacramento Bee attempted to thread a very tiny needle with a piece of wet rope. The overall premise of the piece? Furloughing state workers was a difficult but necessary course to follow that saved the state money but is no longer worthwhile. This premise, along with nearly every supporting argument raised, is flawed on many points.

Click the following link to read the rest of Menager's e-mail.

Furloughs, it is contended, "helped the state preserve cash at a time California was having trouble paying its bills." But this argument misses the point that the purported "immediate cash savings" came in large part by misappropriating funds from outside sources into the General Fund--a mere accounting gimmick at best and a questionably legal-ish Ponzi scheme at worst.

Such tunnel vision only recognizes the damages wrought by furloughing the workforce as an inconvenient wait time at the DMV. Whether by ignorance or indifference such a view is dangerously narrow.

State workers provide the infrastructure upon which all commerce in the state and even our day to day lives rest. Additional delays in adjudicating cases have kept increasing numbers of the disabled from receiving their federal Social Security monies. An ever-growing backlog of Unemployment Insurance applications has delayed getting necessary aid to the newly jobless. Unable to get through to the Franchise Tax Board on the phone, more and more taxpayers fall out of compliance and rack up additional penalties. The crews that inspect and maintain our levees and bridges must cover the same ground with nearly 15% fewer days to do so. The influence of state employees reaches far beyond ensuring the millions of cars in California are insured and smogged and that the drivers are properly licensed and qualified.

The editorial also mentions in passing that some agencies, such as the Franchise Tax Board, generate revenue which was also impaired by furloughs. Let's be clear here. FTB is the primary revenue collector for the entire state of California. Personal and corporate income tax accounts for approximately 60% of General Fund. When FTB loses money we ALL lose money.

This is why it is so puzzling that the Bee would support the governor's veto of SBX8 29. Besides exempting non-General Fund positions from furloughs, it would also have exempted the state's primary revenue collection agencies -- FTB and the Board of Equalization -- allowing them to work, fully staffed through the "Furlough Fridays" and bring in essentially 15% more revenue to our cash-strapped state. The Bee fears that such a measure would "tie the hands of future governors" in dealing with possible future crises. But giving such power to the Executive -- to divert targeted fees, bond monies, and even federal dollars to the governor's whim in times of crisis -- is akin to giving Nero fiddle lessons while the Capitol fills with smoke.

Ah, but what about equity? The Bee and the governor have grown calluses from all their hand-wringing over this canard. Correctional Officers and the prison's vocational teachers who spend their days among convicted felons can have their pay slashed by nearly 15% but the CHP officers who escort our governor like some sort of banana republic jefe enjoy their full pay? Obviously, the governor cries crocodile tears when he claims he is fighting for equity among state employees. Besides, the other constitutional officers have not furloughed any of their employees but, rather, made other cuts in their respective offices. Also, the SCIF decision that determined that State Fund personnel were outside of the governor's control similarly protected those employees from furloughs.

State employees fully understand that certain perks depend upon what department or even what section one works in. Some projects get overtime, some do not. Some classifications earn retention bonuses, others do not. And, yes, some departments or positions would be exempt from furloughs and other would not be. We're big kids; we can deal with it. Furthermore, we recognize disingenuous calls for "equity" for what they are: vain attempts to gather more lambs to be sheared.

But negating furloughs brings us inevitably to pay cuts and layoffs. This is the cudgel held over the unions warning them of the dangers of resisting concessions. But what is conveniently forgotten is that, on the whole, public employees still make markedly less than their private sector counterparts. As we come out of this recession, that gap will increase as private industry responds to market forces more nimbly than the glacially paced bureaucracy of the State.

State workers already gave at the office. No more should be taken from them.
Layoffs, however, are a legal option that has always been at the governor's disposal. But California, with the eighth largest economy in the world, is already operating leaner than 47 other states as it has among the fewest number of state employees per capita. Further cuts would mean the outright elimination of services Californians have come to expect. If we are to go down that road, we truly need to come to grips with what kind of a society we are willing to live in...or pay for...one way or another.

On October 14, The Sacramento Bee will temporarily remove commenting from sacbee.com. While we design the upgrade, we encourage you to tell us what you like and don't like about commenting on sacbee.com and other websites. We've heard from hundreds of you already and we're listening. Please continue to add your thoughts and questions here. We also encourage you to write Letters to the Editor on this and other topics.



About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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