The State Worker: Foolproof predictions for the state workforce

jortiz@sacbee.comJanuary 3, 2013 

It looks like California has overspent by hundreds of millions of dollars on courthouse construction in Long Beach and roadwork in San Francisco. Meanwhile, a $371 million state payroll system upgrade is five years overdue and over budget.

We're certainly unqualified to predict examples of the state's nimble efficiency for the coming year, but here are 100-percent-guaranteed-accurate predictions for the year that just expired:

• Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and his majority-party partners in the Legislature will change public pension benefits for state and local workers.

Aghast unions will holler that the August legislation is extreme. Hardcore pension reformers will yip the bill is more fluff than substance.

The folks most affected by the pension changes? They won't utter a peep. The new benefits formulas that require employees work longer and retire with fewer benefits won't be on the payroll until Jan. 1, 2013, or later, so they have no say.

• Just ahead of the August pension legislation, Brown will persuade nearly every state employee union to accept furloughs, even though their contracts call for regular hours and pay.

If former GOP Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, confronted with a much more severe budget deficit, had proposed a similar plan, the apoplectic unions would have said furloughs unfairly balanced the budget on their members' backs.

Wait. He did. And they did. About four years ago.

• The pension reform measure and furloughs will share a common political motive: Brown and his labor allies will want voters to hike taxes via a ballot measure aimed at easing serial budget crises.

The furloughs will buff Brown's governing-on-the-cheap image. The pension measure will attest that Democrats take California's finances seriously enough to whack retirements and risk upsetting their union base.

• With union money and muscle behind him, Brown will persuade voters to accept the tax hike proposal.

Labor unions will raise more than $60 million to promote Proposition 30, a temporary sales and income increase. They'll also lend strategic campaign expertise and put boots on the ground to get out the vote for Brown's measure.

Guess they weren't that upset after all.

• While winning Proposition 30 will be huge for the unions, they'll score an even bigger win by defeating a ballot measure that would end payroll-deducted funding for political purposes.

If passed, Proposition 32 would have tipped the balance of political power in Sacramento, since unions get all their political spending money from members' payroll deductions. Their traditional nemeses, business interests, don't.

The Yes on 30 and No on 32 campaigns will feed on each other. If you can get a voter supporting a tax hike, it's not much of a stretch to get that voter opposing the payroll measure. Brilliant, the political chattering class will conclude.

Almost as brilliant as flawlessly predicting events of 2012 – after the fact.

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