Raise the Minimum Wage, or Lower the Cost of Living?

Increases to the minimum wage in California are moving closer to reality. As reported on March 30th by MyNewsLA.com, “Los Angeles County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis will ask their colleagues to approve spending up to $95,000 to have the Los Angeles Economic Development Corporation review a series of studies of the issue performed in relation to the city of Los Angeles’ proposal to raise the minimum wage to $13.25 an hour by 2017 and to $15.25 an hour by 2019.”

California’s minimum wage is currently $9.00 per hour. The federal minimum wage is currently $7.25 per hour.

Largely lost in the debate over the “fight for fifteen” (dollars per hour) is America’s inflation adjusted minimum wage based on historical precedents. It’s an interesting topic that deserves discussion, because historical minimum wages expressed in 2015 dollars vary a great deal. Since establishing the first federal minimum wage in 1938, the amount has been adjusted 22 times. As can be seen on the chart, between 1938 and 1968 the minimum wage expressed in 2015 dollars rose steadily. In 2015 dollars, for example, the 1938 minimum wage would be $4.13, rising to $11.01 per hour by 1968. Since then, it has been in decline – in 2015 dollars the minimum wage was roughly between $9.00 and $10.00 per hour during the 1970’s, then fell to roughly between $7.00 and $8.00 from 1980 through 2009, when it was last adjusted.

Historical Minimum Wages
Expressed in 2015 Dollars
20150331-UW_Ring-MinimumWage

Those who believe in minimum wage laws can draw many conclusions from this data. What they cannot easily conclude, however, is that the minimum wage, today, can rise much beyond $10.00 per hour and still conform to historical norms. Only twice, in 1968 and 1974, did the inflation adjusted minimum wage exceed $10.00 per hour.

From this perspective, California’s state minimum wage, $9.00 per hour, finds itself placed almost exactly at the median in terms of historical federal minimum wage levels expressed in 2015 dollars. From what should be a reasonably compelling economic standpoint, there is no urgent reason to increase the minimum wage above $9.00 per hour, even for those who are solidly in favor of having minimum wage laws. While one may argue that California has a higher cost of living than most other places in the United States, justifying a minimum wage higher than the historical median, one might also acknowledge that many of the benefits offered minimum wage earners today were not available until relatively recently. Examples include the earned income tax credit, not established until 1975, and the steep discount on health premiums offered under Obamacare.

It rises perhaps to the level of overkill to join the libertarian chorus extolling the virtues of an utterly unregulated wage market. Also well documented are the many ulterior motives for labor unions to lead the charge for a higher minimum wage – it gives them powerful political rhetoric to address millions of low income workers not represented by a union, and, more pragmatically, a higher minimum wage rewards union members directly whenever – as is frequently the case – their wage scales are pegged a fixed level above the prevailing minimum wage.

Two observations potentially underrepresented in this debate, however, do deserve mention. First, the fact that unions are attempting to fight for workers in low paying, competitive industries, is at least consistent with the illustrious aspects of their legacy. Unlike unions representing government professionals who perform high paying jobs for monopolistic, taxpayer funded agencies, at least the unions fighting for minimum wage workers are fighting for the little guy. If they might abandon their commitment to flood the United States with unskilled immigrants who drive down wages and threaten the solvency of social welfare programs, and if their labor agreements didn’t peg their own wage scales to float upwards as the minimum wage rises, one could almost believe in their sincerity.

The other fact is more challenging and obscure, yet ought to merit a central place in the debate over economic justice. That is the fact that California’s cost-of-living is the highest in the nation. In California’s coastal cities, the cost of housing is prohibitive; the costs for energy, water, and transportation are punishingly high. For middle class residents, the cost of health insurance is punishing as well. And it doesn’t have to be that way. Competitive resource development – free of extremist environmental hindrances, other regulatory roadblocks, costly project labor agreements and union work rules – would lower the cost of living at the same time as creating millions of new jobs. It could usher in a new golden age for California’s working class.

Those unions who fight for a higher minimum wage might consider fighting to lower the cost-of-living instead. But to do so, they will have to break ranks with the public sector unions, who hide behind oppressive environmentalist restrictions, because they know full well that infrastructure development will come at the cost of their own exorbitant compensation.

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

LAUSD Offer Worth $122,938 Per Year – Will They Strike Anyway?

LAUSD Offer Worth $122,938 Per Year – Will They Strike Anyway?

By Ed Ring, executive director, California Policy Center

“Our demands, they’re not radical. When did it become radical to have class sizes that you could actually teach in? When did it become radical to have staffing and to pay people back after eight years of nothing?”
 – Alex Caputo Pearl, President, UTLA, February 26, 2015, Los Angeles Times

If the 35,000 members of the United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents employees of Los Angeles Unified School District, actually go on strike, in large part it will be because they want an 8.5% salary increase and the district is only offering them 5%. They also want smaller class sizes – tough to do when you’re passing out salary increases. But how much do these teachers actually make?

If you review the most authoritative source of public information on LAUSD salaries, the California state controller’s public pay website you will get the impression they aren’t making much. The summary page for LAUSD shows “average wages” of $40,506 per year and employer paid “average retirement and health” benefits at $10,867 per year.

This is extremely misleading. These “averages” include part-time workers such as student teachers and substitute teachers. But the “Raw Export” tab of the state controller’s website yields more comprehensive information.

If you eliminate part-time workers and eliminate workers who were hired or left employment mid-year – based on screening out of the data any individual record where the recorded “base pay” is 10% or more less than the stated “minimum pay for position” for that record – a very different compensation profile emerges. In reality, teachers who worked full-time during 2013 for the LA Unified School District made direct pay that averaged $72,781, and they collected employer paid benefits averaging $17,012, meaning their total pay and benefits package was $89,793. And they collected this in return for working between 163 and 180 days per year (ref. UTLA/LAUSD Labor Agreement, page 30).

Properly estimating how much LAUSD teachers make, however, requires at least two important additional calculations, (1) normalizing their pay to take into account their extraordinary quantity of vacation time, and (2) taking into account the state of California’s direct payments into CalSTRS as well as the necessity to increase CalSTRS contributions in order to pay down their unfunded liability.

Normalizing for vacation time is easy. Using the larger number referenced in their labor agreement, 180 days per year of work, based on 260 weekdays per year, means LAUSD teachers work 36 weeks a year and get 16 weeks off. The typical private sector worker rarely gets more than four weeks off, two weeks of vacation and two weeks of paid holidays. While many professionals earn more than two weeks of vacation, they are also required to be perpetually on call and often work far more than 40 hour weeks. Many entry level or low income workers don’t get paid for any holidays or vacation. It is reasonable to assume the typical teacher works 12 weeks less per year than the average private sector worker. This translates into a $24,260 value on top of the average LAUSD teacher’s direct pay of $72,781 per year.

“Eight years of nothing.” Really, Mr. Caputo Pearl?

Normalizing for the value of pensions is not easy, but using similarly conservative assumptions we can develop reasonable estimates. For starters, from the CalSTRS website, here’s what the state contributes:

“The state contributes a percentage of the annual earnings of all members to the Defined Benefit Program. Under the new funding plan, the state’s contribution is increasing over the next three years from 3.041 percent in 2013–14 to 6.328 percent beginning July 1, 2016. The state also contributes an amount equal to about 2.5 percent of annual member earnings into the CalSTRS Supplemental Benefit Maintenance Account. The SBMA account is used to maintain the purchasing power of benefits.”

Sticking with current contributions – 3.041 percent plus 2.5 percent, based on “member earnings” referring to “direct pay,” that adds another $4,033 to the average earnings of an LAUSD teacher.

In summary, LAUSD teachers are threatening to strike because they only make – using real world equivalents – $97,041 in direct pay, plus $21,045 in employer paid benefits. The average full-time LAUSD teacher earns total compensation worth $118,086 per year. Throw onto direct pay the 5% offer from the district, worth another $4,852 per year, and you have a total average teacher compensation proposed to go up to $122,938 per year.

Any critic of this analysis who happens to be an LAUSD teacher is invited to work 48 weeks a year instead of 36 weeks a year, or, of course, give up their pension benefit. Otherwise, these are the numbers. To verify them, download this spreadsheet analysis which uses payroll and benefit data provided by LAUSD to the California State Controller’s office:  LAUSD_2013_Compensation-Analysis.xlsx (10.0 MB).

No reasonable person should fail to sympathize with the challenges facing teachers in Los Angeles public schools. But the solution is not higher pay. The solution is to purge the system of bad teachers, reward excellent teachers, give principals more autonomy, stop promoting and retaining teachers based on seniority, measure teacher effectiveness based on the academic success of their pupils, and, gasp, improve the ratio of teachers to support staff. As it is, during 2013 LAUSD spent $2.6 billion on full-time and part-time teachers, and $2.1 billion on full-time and part-time other staff. Do they really need to spend 45 percent of their payroll outside the classroom? The solution is also to lower the cost of living for everyone, through supporting government policies that encourage competitive development of land and resources.

Finally, this estimate of the value of average total compensation for LAUSD full time teachers is still dramatically understated, because CalSTRS remains wallowed in an underfunded position that is officially recognized at $73.7 billion.

To the extent the leadership of the UTLA and their membership subscribe to “left wing” political sentiments, remember this:

There are currently $4.0 trillion of state/local U.S. government worker pension fund assets overseen by managers who rampage about the entire planet demanding annual yields north of 7.0 percent per year. This is a financial maelstrom of cataclysmic proportions that is corrupting the entire global economy. It is an act of wanton aggression against honest capitalists and private households attempting to save for retirement. Ongoing annual returns of this size require asset bubbles which require risky investments and cheap credit – antithetical to sustainable economic growth.

Remember this as you fight to enhance your compensation and defend your pensions as they are – you have exempted yourself from economic reality and are recklessly gambling with the future of the people you supposedly serve. Through your pension funds, you are benefiting from capitalism in its most aggressive and parasitic form.

Remember all this when you go on strike because you’ve had “eight years of nothing.”

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

WHICH SIDE ARE YOU ON? Mandatory Union Membership Hurting Workers

When workers are forced to join a union in order to work, it hurts workers pretty much the same way as business monopolies hurt consumers, according to a report released Monday by conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation.

According to the report, in those states where union membership is required in order to have a job, unions will have higher dues and be far less efficient than in states that don’t require union membership as a condition of employment. The report argues that these negative outcomes are likely caused by unions not having to worry about proving their worth in order to keep their members.

“Businesses with monopolies charge higher prices and operate less efficiently than they would facing competition,” the report argues. “Labor unions operate no differently.”

In business, a monopoly occurs when there is only one supplier of a particular commodity. When this happens, the one company can control prices while also delivering a subpar product because the consumer doesn’t have the choice to go elsewhere. Recognizing the potential harm this may have on consumers, lawmakers have passed several laws to prevent monopolies over the years. And as the report argues, laws in compulsory-union-membership states legally cause union monopolies that are prone to the same negative behaviors business monopolies are.

“Union financial reports reveal that they charge workers roughly 10 percent higher dues and pay their full-time top officers $20,000 more annually in states with compulsory dues,” the report found.

James Sherk, the Heritage scholar who wrote the report, told reporters at a policy forum that the findings aren’t at all surprising, though the subject hasn’t yet been thoroughly studied before then.

“No one’s taken a look at this yet, and I realized the reason no one has taken a look at this yet is it’s only recently the data has become available,” Sherk noted. “In the 2000s, Elaine Chao when she was labor secretary modernized the union financial reporting information. She required the unions to itemize all their expenditures over $5,000 and she basically made all these reports available online.”

“We summarize in the report, it’s roughly 10 percent… higher dues that the unions charge when they can force you to pay dues,” Sherk continued. “When the unions can force you to pay dues they maximize their revenue.”

Sherk argues that the higher dues go to pay the union officers, instead of benefiting union members.

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Originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation

ONE Labor Contract Dispute Is Crippling Small Businesses

Retailers have become increasingly alarmed as the West Coast port dispute becomes more hostile.

For the past eight months, the Pacific Maritime Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union have struggled to agree on a new labor contract. Even as negotiations resumed Friday after a short break, the inability to come to a deal and the resulting port congestion has prompted vast economic concern, especially among those in the retail industry.

Stephen Schatz, the senior director of media relations for the National Retail Federation, notes that though retailers have been doing all they can to keep their stores and warehouses stocked, they grow increasingly concerned over the long-term economic impact the dispute may have.

“The National Retail Federation has been keeping a close eye on this dispute,” Schatz told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Over the past two to three months we have seen increasing concern from stakeholders.”

Schatz said retailers and businesses involved in the supply chain have done all they can to work around the dispute, including using ports outside the country to get their supplies.

“We’ve talked to our members and they say they’ll go to Canadian ports or Mexican ports,” Schatz said. “It’s critically import for retailers to have stock.”

Along with using foreign ports to get products into the United States, Schatz notes that some companies have even flown products into the country — which cost significantly more to do.

It’s not just companies reliant on imports that are concerned, companies that export good to foreign countries have suffered greatly because of the slowdowns and port congestion. Schatz notes that small companies that export goods are likely the hardest hit.

“In the long term it’s really putting our exports in jeopardy,” Schatz continued. Many small businesses don’t have the resources and ability to divert products to ports in Canada and Mexico like the bigger companies can. Additionally they are much more reliant on foreign companies who will likely look elsewhere for products if they cannot get them easily from the United States.

The slowdowns and port congestion hurt one Washington-based Christmas tree grower so badly that Schatz fears, “that tree farm may have to go out of business,” because they were unable to be exported to Japan in time for the holidays.

Retailers have grown so concerned they have sent several letters to the PMA and ILWU along with lawmakers in the hopes of resolving the conflict. In the most recent letter from last week, dozens of manufacturers, farmers, wholesalers, retailers, importers, exporters and distributors wrote to express their concern over the rhetoric and growing hostility they have seen from both sides throughout the negotiation process.

“As customers of your ports, and industries affected by their operations, our members desperately need this negotiation to be concluded and operations returned to normal levels of through-put,” the letter noted.

“Over the summer months, both sides verbally agreed to work during the negotiations without interruptions,” the letter continued. “That promise was broken and the consequences have been to the detriment of our collective industries, the economy and our global competitiveness.”

“The stakes are extremely high and the uncertainty at the West Coast ports is causing great reputational and economic harm to our nation,” the letter declared. “The competitive marketplace will respond if you continue on this current path.”

As the letter points out, foreign competitors are already using the slowdowns and the resulting uncertainty as a reason not to buy American made or grown products. Additionally, retailers are already seeing delays stretching far into spring.

While the PMA has accused the union of purposely causing the port slowdowns to pressure it at the bargaining table, ILWU defended itself by noting much of the congestion was happening before the current negotiations.

The PMA argued in a statement provided to TheDCNF, “Despite ILWU rhetoric, there was no significant congestion in Tacoma, Seattle or Oakland prior to their slowdowns, which began on Halloween night in Tacoma and at other major ports the following week.”

“In Southern California, the ILWU’s targeted slowdowns have severely worsened existing congestion by withholding the skilled workers who are most essential to clearing crowded terminals,” PMA continued. “All the while, cargo sits idle, the economic damage to our communities worsens and the reputation of West Coast ports is harmed.”

Though Schatz is optimistic that the two sides are meeting and have both agreed on federal mediation, he still is very much concerned that these port slowdowns may result in a full-scale shutdown.

“If the 29 west coast ports were to shutdown, the consequences would be severe,” Schatz warns. “The longer it is shutdown, the bigger the economic impact.”

“A shutdown is totally unacceptable and the delays are also unacceptable,” Schatz added.

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This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation. 

U.S. Supreme Court Close to Curbing CA Union Power

Last year marked a legal turning point for California’s teachers’ unions and public employee unions across the nation. First, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled in June that some of the teachers’ work rules—including tenure, seniority, and dismissal laws—violated the state and federal constitutions. That same month, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation in Harris v. Quinn, holding that home healthcare workers could not be forced to pay agency shop fees to the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Treu’s ruling in Vergara v. California inflicted a flesh wound on the teachers’ unions, but Harris sent them reeling. The only way that the Supreme Court’s five-to-four decision could have been worse for the unions is if the justices had decided to broaden it to cover all public employees, not just a subset of them. Instead, Justice Samuel Alito drew a distinction between the home workers and “full-fledged” public employees, who currently must pay dues as delineated in the court’s 1977 Abood v. Detroit Board of Education decision. Nevertheless, Alito’s opinion left the door open for a more expansive court ruling later. He noted that Abood (which holds that the state may force public-sector workers to pay union dues while carving out an exception for the funds that unions spend on political activity) is questionable on several grounds, and went so far as to suggest that collective bargaining issues are inherently political in the public sector. Alito explained, “In the private sector, the line is easier to see. Collective bargaining concerns the union’s dealings with the employer; political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government. But in the public sector, both collective bargaining and political advocacy and lobbying are directed at the government.” Taking Alito’s reasoning to its logical next step, paying fees to a public-employee union would become voluntary in the 26 states, including California, where it’s now compulsory.

As it happens, a case working its way through the federal appeals process right now from California could be the catalyst for that decision. Friedrichs et al v. CTA pits 10 teachers and a union alternative called the Christian Educators Association International against the powerful California Teachers Association. The lawsuit, filed in 2013 by attorneys working with the Center for Individual Rights, takes aim at California’s “agency shop” law, which forces teachers to pay dues for collective bargaining activities, though (per Abood) paying for the unions’ political agenda is not mandatory. The plaintiffs’ lawyers challenging the statute echo Alito’s point out that collective bargaining is inherently political, and therefore all union dues should be voluntary. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in November issued an order that clears the way for the plaintiffs to petition the Supreme Court. If the justices grant certiorari, a decision could come in 2016.

If the Supreme Court overturns Abood, it would change the political landscape drastically. When Wisconsin’s Act 10 made teacher union membership voluntary, the unions in that state lost about one-third of their membership and a substantial amount of clout. If the same percentage of teachers quit the California Teachers Association, the union would lose approximately $62 million a year in dues. Considering the teachers’ union spent more than $290 million on candidates, ballot measures, and lobbying between 2000 and 2013 — by far the most of any political player in the Golden State — such a loss would be crushing. And it’s no secret that CTA spending moves almost exclusively in a leftward direction. Between 2003 and 2012, the union gave $15.7 million to Democratic candidates and just $92,700 to Republicans — a ratio of roughly 99 to one. CTA has also spent millions promoting controversial causes such as same-sex marriage and single-payer healthcare, while opposing voter ID laws and limitations of the government’s power of eminent domain.

And the “fourth co-equal branch of government” wouldn’t be the only teachers’ union to learn what it’s like to live on voluntary contributions. The National Education Association, which hauled in nearly $363 million in forced dues in 2013–2014 and spent about $132 million of it on issue advocacy, would have to curtail its political largess considerably. Like the CTA, the NEA spends almost exclusively on progressive groups and causes. Over the years, the union has lavished gifts on People for the American Way, Media Matters, ACORN, Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH, and the Center for American Progress. Not surprisingly, the union’s political spending by party is lopsided, too. Between 1989 and 2014, the union directed just 4 percent of its campaign contributions to Republicans, usually backing the least conservative candidate in a primary election fight.

Like most union leaders, recently termed-out NEA president Dennis Van Roekel insists that all teachers should be required to pay the union. “Fair share simply makes sure that all educators share the cost of negotiations for benefits that all educators enjoy, regardless of whether they are association members,” he said in June. Sounds reasonable. But what Van Roekel doesn’t mention is that the unions demand exclusive bargaining rights for all teachers. Teachers in monopoly bargaining states have no choice but to toe the union line. There is nothing “fair” about forcing a worker to pay dues to a union they wouldn’t otherwise join. If Friedrichs is successful and Abood is overturned, it would be a great victory for true freedom of association.

This article was originally published at City-Journal.org

Conservatives, Police Unions, and the Future of Law Enforcement

Conservatives in America are at a crossroads. They face a choice between greater freedom or greater security. While striking this delicate balance has required ongoing policy choices throughout history, recent events involving law enforcement have brought these choices into sharp focus. Here’s how Patrik Johnson, writing last month in the Christian Science Monitor, described the choice:

“Police forces nationwide are being pulled between two opposite trends: more empathetic, community policing and an increasingly militarized response to crises.”

How conservatives, on balance, weigh in on this choice has far reaching consequences. On one hand, conservatives can support suggested reforms that embrace the value of empathy, minimize violence, alleviate tensions, and pave the way for 21st century policing appropriate to a free republic. Here is a key reform advocated by the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, in reaction to the tensions in that city following a police shooting:

“A comprehensive review by the Department of Justice into systematic abuses by police departments and the development of specific use of force standards and accompanying recommendations for police training, community involvement and oversight strategies and standards for independent investigatory/disciplinary mechanisms when excessive force is used.”

Conservatives may scoff at some of the other demands – such as guaranteed “full employment for our people,” which, for starters, goes well beyond police reform. But conservatives better think twice before deciding there is no merit to any of the concerns of activist groups who have been animated, across the nation, by alleged excessive use of force by police.

Because there is a dark, shamefully pragmatic alternative course for conservatives. They can choose to fan the flames of racial animosity and fear, secure in believing that excessive force may never touch their communities. But excessive use of force by police is not primarily a racial issue. Ask the families of Kelly Thomas, or David Silva, or Kevin Hughey, or hundreds of others.

The issue, bigger than race, is this: Are we going to evolve into a nation where police are trained to use nonlethal force, trained to practice “empathic, community policing,” or not? And are we going to be a nation where police are held accountable if they cross the line, or not?

Which brings us to the fact that most law enforcement agencies in the United States today are unionized. These unions are politically active, and they tend to lean conservative in their political contributions. The practical choice conservatives face is stark: Do they want to take money from police unions not just in exchange for ignoring the serious financial challenges caused by their excessive pension benefits, but also in exchange for ignoring calls to better regulate use of excessive force?

Challenging the agenda of police unions will not only cost politicians their financial support. In some cases it can even earn their active retaliation. A troubling article by Lucy Caldwell, in a National Review article entitled “Police Unions Behaving Badly,” documents how a local politician in California was harassed after standing up to them in contract negotiations. And as Caldwell notes, “police unions are able to operate with absolutely no transparency because they are classified as private entities not subject to public-records laws.”

There are many reasons government unions, especially law enforcement unions, are problematic in a democracy. But when the teachers union in California went on record deploring the education reforms upheld in the Vergara decision – everyone, liberals and conservatives alike, saw them for who they are – a lobbying group that is more concerned about protecting bad teachers than they are about educating children.

Members of law enforcement themselves, perhaps even more than teachers, ought to be, and usually are, highly motivated to make a contribution to society. They have a strong sense of right and wrong, and justifiably feel there is a moral worth to the jobs they do and the profession they’ve chosen. So why are they letting their unions fight reforms that will weed out bad cops, and implement training and oversight programs that will result in fewer lives lost and lowered tensions in the communities they serve?

Conservatives can seize this opportunity to find the strength of their most enlightened convictions. They can join with liberals to reform and evolve law enforcement in the U.S. And in so doing they can help liberals to see how the agenda of government unions is in inherent conflict with the public interest – in law enforcement as well as in education. And they can start to work towards broader reforms as part of a powerful new coalition.

Alternatively, conservatives can revert to an ugly, divisive, racially tinged, belligerent message, endorsing security at any cost. They may reap short term political and financial gains from such a strategy. But they will further divide this nation, and in the long run, discredit themselves irrevocably.

*   *   *

Ed Ring is the executive director of the California Policy Center.

Biased LA Times Has Trouble Connecting the Dots

GUEST COMMENTARY – In a truly ironic twist, we just had Times columnist George Skelton (who covers Sacramento) and departing Times columnist Jim Newton (who covered many local issues) give, respectively, their recommended fixes for our state and city/county governments.

Which would all be well and good if the problems they now decry hadn’t occurred on their watch, and in large part because of their fixed, intransigent “liberal” bias.  And while Skelton and Newton probably consider themselves part of the self-righteous answer to our problems, perhaps a healthy dose of humble pie would be a good idea for them because they helped cause our state and local messes.

After all, those two are the ones who kept adhering to policies that ultimately led to a one-party, inbred system that enriched a few while proclaiming to help the little guy … while a continuing efflux of generational Californians who built this state finally threw up their hands, and either withdrew from civic life or just fled the state into one of the saner states in our nation.

Which means that the rest of us still living here are either too stupid or stubborn to conclude we’re beyond repair, or we have more courage and integrity than Skelton or Newton with respect to serious confronting … and I mean CONFRONTING … the California problems that threaten to spread like a cancer to the rest of the nation:

1) Perhaps not all Democrats, but THIS group of Democrats running Sacramento and Downtown LA are the puppets of public sector unions–particularly educational unions–that don’t give a rip about students, taxpayers and families … but unions who make damn sure they’ve got the self-serving volunteers and money to elect their personal favorites. (Photo.)

Governor Brown’s attempts to limit-set the state’s educational and other unions when he “temporarily” raised taxes to balance the budget?  Quietly being placed aside as talk of permanent tax hikes get louder, and dying the sure death that former Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposed reforms did when he first became governor, and when he thought he had a voter mandate to reform Sacramento …

… and before “Benedict Arnold” Schwarzenegger decided if you can’t beat ’em, then join ’em.  So now Skelton says that Brown needs to stand up to the UC Regents and insatiable public sector unions pushing an unsustainable public pension our state can afford, and Newton recommends containing the influence of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Perhaps Skelton should follow Newton’s path and now depart from the biased Times, because neither really backed Schwarzenegger when it counted, and neither really backed Antonio Villaraigosa when he attacked the UTLA. Villaraigosa deservedly lost a lot of voter respect by the end of his mayoral term, but on education he showed some serious guts–and as with Schwarzenegger, he had wholly insufficient support from the press.

A press that, as with Skelton and Newton, would do well to learn how to Connect-the-Dots and recognize how political courage never wins without honest and courageous journalistic support.

2) We just had a slew of Sacramento politicians nailed on corruption charges, and we are in the middle of a host of corrupt and misguided educational projects such as bad iPad deals and Common Core being rammed down the students throats (and their taxpaying families) … and yet not a courageous word from either Skelton or Newton as to which group of politicians are truly behind this nonsense.

And nary a favorable word as to which end of the political spectrum are most outraged, and have been most outspoken, about the lack of political transparency and honesty in either Sacramento or Downtown Los Angeles.

On his way out, Newton suggests that “two mayors, Riordan and Antonio Villaraigosa, spilled much political blood trying to devise a better system for overseeing schools.  They came up short, but they were right.”  Yet did Newton ever have the temerity and spine to do honest reporting when it really counted, and recognize the historical prediction of that Democratic and American icon, FDR, who originally opposed public sector unions?

Not all unions … public sector unions!  The ones who did exactly what FDR feared, and who take taxpayer money and spend it on campaigns to make sure they get their favorite boys and girls into office.  And does Skelton, in his holiday wish list for Sacramento, really take it to the ongoing dysfunctional California Democratic Party system and suggest more political parity to keep things transparent and balanced?

No … because in Skelton and Newton’s world, only Republicans need to be reformed and bipartisan.  Which would be fine, if an inbred Democratic world was any better than an inbred Republican world.

Here’s a hint for the press–both for those who hold their nose and tolerate Republicans and Independents, or those who obviously hold Republicans and Independents in contempt:  stare in the mirror, ask YOURSELF if YOU need to show more impartiality, and Connect the Dots that “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” because ALL one-party systems are ripe for corruption and dysfunction.

3) While Skelton makes an excellent point against “Democrats now always bowing to labor and Republicans not consistently cowering before the anti-tax crowd”, he doesn’t Connect-the-Dots between how the outdated tax system and public pension system he decries, and who’s really, REALLY trying to fix it (and ditto for Newton).

And neither of them give credit to a California Republican mantra which should also be one proclaimed by Democratic and Independent leaders, because it’s true from a mathematical, not politically partisan perspective:

WE DON’T HAVE A TAX PROBLEM, WE HAVE A SPENDING PROBLEM.

Let me translate this for anyone who’s willing to drop their obsession with “good guy/bad guy politics” or partisan politics of any sort, and let me translate this to Skelton, Newton, or any other biased self-proclaimed know-it-all from the media who needs to drink a tall glass of “shut your mouth” to wash down that aforementioned, long-overdue piece of humble pie.

I’ve jokingly referred to “Alpern’s Law of Taxes” (which really isn’t MY idea, but just common sense that’s been extolled by others for centuries, if not millennia): IT’S NOT THE AMOUNT OF TAXES THAT INFURIATES TAXPAYERS, BUT THE PERCEPTION OF HOW THEY’RE BEING SPENT.

When we’re fighting the Nazis, or their modern-day equivalents in the Taliban/al-Qaida, we can and should raise taxes to take ownership of our generational struggles.  FDR was right to do it in the 1940’s, and G.W. Bush was wrong to not do it when he declared a War on Terror.  Ditto if taxes are being raised for infrastructural needs SO LONG AS THEY ARE SPENT WELL.

However, pension spiking and allowing public sector workers to retire in their mid-50’s while the rest of us have to work until we drop dead of exhaustion. is NOT a prescription for a proper public investment of the taxpaying public as our infrastructure and governmental services crumble and disappear.

So Republicans have and did raise taxes (both Republican and Democratic voter majorities in L.A. County voted to raise sales taxes for transportation Measure R), and they need to do so again under the right circumstances. But shouldn’t Democrats get past “blame the Koch Brothers and Bush” to acknowledge that our taxes are too-often being spent poorly?

Do the likes of Skelton and Newton have the spine and moxie to suggest that public sector unions undo the Governor Davis Debacle and start calculating CalPERS and local/city/county investment returns at 4% or less (and have public sector workers pay more into their systems) until they’re no longer draining our state and local governmental coffers?

Do the likes of Skelton and Newton have the spine and moxie to suggest that while raising taxes on the rich is politically expedient, raising income and sales taxes on EVERYBODY combined with a moratorium on raising the state and local budgets (if not lowering them by 5-10%) is the best way to make everyone sacrifice together and keep our budgets balanced for the long-term?

Do the likes of Skelton and Newton have the open-mindedness to abandon their never-ending dogma of “end term limits” and listen to the voters who are smart enough to ignore them?  After all, the City of Long Beach did show how a popular Mayor (Beverly O’Neill) could retain her office with a write-in vote in a city that also retained general term limits.

(We are the same nation that had its tone set with our first president, George Washington, who many would have gladly been elected king but who proclaimed that he was only one man … and who voluntarily left office to leave it to others to take on the responsibilities of leading.)

As for little ol’ me, I’m just a dermatologist who’s also a local/volunteer civic leader and a transportation advocate in favor of Proper Planning and Good Government — and I’m always happy to be proven wrong.

But as for Skelton and Newton, they’re not too smart or too wise to acknowledge they really ARE biased, and really DON’T have all the answers, no matter which closed-minded and “progressive” rag chooses to hire them.

They, like the rest of us, really need to Connect the Dots and acknowledge when bad policies and bad politics are connected in a vicious circle that is self-serving and society-destroying.

Let’s hope that 2015 is a turning point when we all (certainly myself included, but especially the wizened columnists at the Times and other media outlets) can reopen our minds and rehash the “truisms” that need to be thrown out like yesterday’s news.

This article was originally published on CityWatchLA.com

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org  He also does regular commentary on the MarkIsler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

San Bernardino Nurses “Blackmail” County Supervisors

Only one week after I was sworn in as the newest member of the Board of Supervisors, we were faced with a strike by 1,200 county nurses, demanding higher pay and work rule changes.

I’m all about protecting patients and ensuring our public employees have fair wages and good working conditions. But there is another group out there that I am determined to protect – the taxpayers who provide the money that funds all government operations. They deserve to be represented at the bargaining table and I will always be there for them.

Most things in life are about striking the right balance between competing interests. An accurate understanding of the facts is essential to finding the best solution to problems. So I researched the situation to find out whether the nurses union claims of being underpaid and overworked were based in fact.

Here’s what I found. The California Nurses Association contended that private hospitals nearby pay their nurses an average of 30 percent more than the county, thereby causing high turnover of experienced nurses, low morale and jeopardizing patient safety.

However, the fact is that the average RN II at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center makes more than the median salary of 21 Inland Empire hospitals surveyed, has over nine years of service, and receives much more generous benefits and retirement packages than those of private hospitals.

The turnover rate at Arrowhead is 5.75 percent, compared with a southern California average turnover rate of 9.5 percent, and the county has received 983 applications for nursing positions just since July 1 of this year.

The truth is that San Bernardino County nurses receive competitive wages, have good working conditions and far better benefits and retirement than their private sector counterparts. The sticking point in the over year long (so far) negotiations is the union’s rejection of the same reasonable terms already accepted by thousands of other county employees.

Restraining the spiraling cost of public employee pay and benefits is essential to maintaining the long term fiscal health of our county. We need look no farther than the city of San Bernardino to see what can happen when those costs get out of hand. My top priority is ensuring the long-term fiscal integrity of county government for the benefit of generations to come.

Bankruptcy is not an option for us. It would be bad for our employees, our patients – indeed, every single person we serve in this county. It would throw a monkey wrench into our economy and send a strong signal to private enterprise to invest somewhere else where the elected leaders can balance their checkbooks and run their government operations in a competent manner.

CNA resorted to the despicable action of abandoning hundreds of poor, mostly minority patients in a blackmail attempt called a “strike.” The Board of Supervisors was forced to spend over $4 million dollars to protect patients from not receiving essential medical care as the result of being deserted by their own nurses. That money was taken away from patients and taxpayers by a callous labor union focused only on lining their pockets.

I will never be blackmailed, and never forget that my first duty is to protect taxpayers and residents of the Fourth District and throughout San Bernardino County. The Board of Supervisors sent a clear message to the union leadership this month. It’s time to bargain in good faith, receive fair treatment from the county just like other county employees and join with the Board of Supervisors in always putting patient care first.

Curt Hagman is a  San Bernardino County Supervisor 

Congress Allows Pension Cuts For Current Retirees

A provision in the recently passed spending bill will allow some underfunded multi-employer pension plans to cut benefits for current retirees.

“The move was the result of an alarm from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. (PBGC) that multi-employer plans covering more than 1 million participants are substantially underfunded and, without legislative changes, will probably fail,” Washington Post business columnist Michelle Singletary wrote.

Under the law, “plans that estimate they won’t have enough money to pay 100 percent of benefits within 15 or 20 years can cut benefits,” but not for retirees who are 80 or older, or those who are on disability. Cuts would also be phased in gradually, so retirees between the ages of 75 and 79 would face smaller cuts than those under 75.

Some retirees may not even know their benefits on their chopping block because they may have overlooked letters informing them that their plan is underfunded. (RELATED: US Workers Living Longer is Bad News for their Pension Funds)

“Participants would have to be given the right to vote on cuts before the benefit reductions could be implemented,” claims the website Business Insurance, but “the U.S. Treasury Department could override the vote” if the plan in question is deemed “systemically important” to the health of the PBGC.

The changes were agreed upon “after numerous warnings that lawmakers needed to act to prevent the collapse of the PBGC insurance program,” which had seen a massive increase in its deficit, “to $42.4 billion in fiscal 2014 from $8.3 billion the prior year.” (RELATED: Democrat Ticked Off Unions in Major Pension Reform, Which Could Cost Her Governor’s Seat)

“Multi-employer plans are prevalent in industries like mining, manufacturing, and construction where workers often shift among employers,” The Wall Street Journal says, and while they allow workers to keep their pension benefits when changing jobs, they also require the support of multiple businesses.

“In 2006 Congress passed the Pension Protection Act to prop up insolvent multi-employer pensions,” requiring trustees to restore solvency to severely underfunded pensions by “raising employer contributions, cutting so-called adjustable benefits like early retirement subsidies,” or reducing future benefits.

The PBGC is viewed as a “federal backstop when plans become insolvent,” reducing the incentive to make those difficult choices, and increasing the likelihood that taxpayers would eventually have to bail out struggling pensions. (RELATED: Unions Try to Replace San Jose Mayor over Pension Reform)

Multi-employer aren’t paying the PBGC enough to keep up with expenses, leading the agency to warn that benefits could be eliminated entirely if it runs out of money.

Employers and unions have long opposed increased premiums, assuming politicians would not allow significant benefits cuts, but the recent changes leave that in doubt.

Follow Peter Fricke on Twitter

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation.

Report: Unions Avoid The Minimum Wage

Unions love raising the minimum wage, so long as they are exempt.

A new report, “Labor’s Minimum Wage Exemption,” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found many labor unions are exempt from the various local minimum wage laws they support for everyone else.

“Not all minimum wage increases come in the same form,” the report notes. “Some local ordinances in particular include an exemption for employers that enter into a collective bargaining agreement with a union.”

The report explains that these sort of “escape clauses” are often designed to encourage unionization because they make membership a low cost alternative for employers. This, explains the report, raises questions about who these minimum wage laws are actually meant to help.

The report cites the experience of one union after the city of Los Angeles included an exemption for unions when they raised the minimum wage for the hotel industry.

“Local 11’s membership increased from 13,626 in 2007 to 20,896 in 2013,10 while its revenue increased from approximately $7.5 million per year to nearly $12.7 million,” the report details.

The same thing happened for UNITE-HERE Local 2 when San Francisco passed a minimum wage ordinance with a union exemption in late 2003.

Another notable example is when the city of SeaTac, Washington passed a living wage ballot initiative in 2013, known as Proposition 1. At the time the initiative established the highest minimum wage rate in the country of $15 per hour with an annual adjustment for inflation.

Proposition 1 also included an exemption for unions. The report explained, “Supporters of Proposition 1 spent more than $1.7 million, with union spending accounting for 98.4% of that amount.”

San Francisco’s move to raise its minimum wage to $10.55 per hour, which gained national attention, also included an exemption for unions.

According to the report, minimum wage laws passed in Oakland, San Jose, Long Beach, Milwaukee County and Chicago all included an exemption for unions.

“Many advocates for a higher minimum wage portray it as a means of improving the lives of workers, putting more money into the economy, and increasing growth,” the report concluded. “So, it is surprising that some minimum wage ordinances include an exemption that potentially undermines all three goals.”

This article was originally published by the Daily Caller News Foundation