Unexamined Premises

Abbott and Costello Explain California for You

On the home page, Victor Davis Hanson has a devastating indictment of Road Warrior California, while over at NRO, Kevin Williamson piles on with “Penniless in Paradise,” about the parlous financial circumstances of the no-longer Golden State. It’s all very depressing to us semi-native Californians, who still harbor hopes that the best place to live in America can somehow yet be salvaged if the racket ruled by the state Democratic Party and the public-employee unions can ever be broken up.

The news, however, is not good. As Kevin points out in his piece, which concentrates on the dysfunctional city of San Berdoo, which basically has got no dough.

San Bernardino spends about 75 percent of its general-fund budget on salaries, benefits, and pensions, with the vast majority of those expenses coming from one class of employee: public-safety workers, meaning cops and firemen, who earn as much as $230,000 a year with overtime. Their pensions, as will not surprise anybody who has been paying attention to government finances in recent years, are extraordinarily generous. In 2007, a consulting firm warned the city that its budget was in trouble because its personnel costs were growing considerably more quickly than revenue, and the city’s response was . . . to offer even more generous pensions in the same year. The firemen are fat and happy in the California sunshine, but the rest of San Bernardino is not doing as well:

“When times were good, my wife and I didn’t go hog-wild and play the let’s-get-a-bigger-house game,” says Mike Potter, who works for a local construction firm. “But now times aren’t good. At my company, 50 percent of the employees have been laid off, and I’ve taken a 15 percent pay cut. I was the head of engineering, and now I’m also a part-time receptionist and janitor.” He is one of the lucky ones — the local unemployment rate runs around 15 percent — and he is blunt on the subject of what encumbers San Bernardino and other bankruptcy-bound California cities: “The public-employee unions are killing us. They are killing our cities, our states, and our country.”

Well, duh. Abbott and Costello explained all this for you years ago. So hear instruction and be wise:

All clear now? Good. Now get back to loafing.