The MGH Report

Michael G. Haran, Proprietor

RISE OF THE INDEPENDENTS

Posted by on Nov 16, 2012

Now that the Republicans have shot themselves in the foot for primarily moving too fare to the right it looks now like it’s up to the Independents, moderate Republicans (if any still exist), watchdog groups and newspapers to check the balance of power that has been given to Democrat legislators and their overlords, the public unions, in a supermajority. Supermajority sounds like code for “power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

According to a recent Santa Rosa Press Democrat article Independents are the fastest growing voter block in California at about 22% compared to 30% Republican and 43% Democrat. Most Independent are, according to political consultant Mark Mellman, “closet partisan” center left or right. I believe most Independents are fiscal conservatives and social liberals. They can’t stand the continued waste and mismanagement in all levels of government but are terrified of the draconian way the current Republican Party governs.

I’m sure there exists some form of Independent political organizations but I would say that most Independents wouldn’t join such groups because it kind of defeats the purpose of being independent. One thing I’ve notice about the independents that I know is that they are very politically knowledgeable and are, if fact, kind of political “wonks” that love to find and expose elected official malfeasance and hypocrisy.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just say, “we elected you, we trust you, and we have to work so we don’t have time to watch you but we know you won’t screw us.” Sadly, that’s not the case. The Republicans mistook morality for ideology and got kicked out of office but the Democrats have a shaky moral history of their own. The morality I’m talking about here is not about the bedroom it’s the morality that exist when one person puts their trust in another and the trusting person not only gets betrayed but also laughed at.

Where was the morality when back in 2002 when the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors enacted measures that have now increased pension costs by over 400 percent that initiated a Grand Jury to concluded that these pension increases were approved in a manner that did not comply with the law in an obvious attempt to dupe voters? In a September 2012 PD article on the subject Brett Wilkinson wrote “Zane and other county leaders, nevertheless, were unified in defending the legality of the enhanced pensions. Trying to roll them back would be a costly lost cause.” Many public sector jobs now pay more than similar private sector jobs and they are guaranteed. Where’s the morality in that?

The public employee retirement systems in Contra Costa, Alameda and Merced counties plan to reduce pension spiking starting Jan. 1 to comply with a new law Gov. Jerry Brown signed in September. Workers have vowed to sue (PD – 11/7/12 “Lawsuit certain over right to spike”). Since when did voters say it was okay for a public employee to roll their unused sick, vacation and car allowance pay into a life-time annuity which boost retirement pay up as much as 24%. Where’s the morality in that?

And how about our new Congressman Jared Huffman as reported by Chris Coursey (PD – 10/29/12 “Vote Yes, No, Maybe or Later’) “Or, you may have been surprised to find out that Assemblyman Jared Huffman missed 144 votes this year in the Assembly, only to add his vote to the record after each of those issues was decided. Where’s the morality in that and for that matter leadership?

I could go on but I have to get back to work. Independents we need you to stay vigilant.

 

Read More

ON PUBLIC PENSIONS

Posted by on Oct 30, 2012

I have been following this year’s city council race in Healdsburg. The town has a sales tax increase, Measure V on this year’s ballot which will raise about one million dollars which current city council member have said will go toward public safety, street maintenance, economic development activities and general repairs and maintenance to city facilities. Two of the council members running for reelection are Gary Plass and Susan Jones both retired public employees.

Everyone knows we need a strong tax base to ensure public safety and a smooth running local, county and state government which provides for both business growth and a good quality of life. What bothers me about agreeing to a tax increases is that I don’t feel enough has been done to get rid of the waste in government. Once redevelopment funds dried up it became obvious that city and county government had been using these funds to expand government growth whether it was needed or not. A recent CBS report which showed Caltrans administrators using state rented pick-up trucks to shop for wine and clothes at Nordstrom’s during business hours and then being stonewalled by Caltrans management continues to erode voter trust.

Back in 2002 the Board of Supervisors enacted measures that have now increased pension costs by over 400 percent. The 2012 Sonoma County Grand Jury concluded that these pension increases were approved in a manner that did not comply with the law in an obvious attempt to dupe voters. In a September 2012 Santa Rosa Press Democrat article on the subject Brett Wilkinson wrote “Zane and other county leaders, nevertheless, were unified in defending the legality of the enhanced pensions. Trying to roll them back would be a costly lost cause, officials said, so the county will continue to pursue changes through legislation and collective bargaining.” I think a jury might think otherwise.

Most newly enacted pension reforms pertain to new hires in a so called “second-tier” reform. As far as I know nothing has been done to reduce the spiked pensions of current retirees who continue to collect lifetime pay increases because they were allowed to roll in their vacation, sick and car allowance pay into their lifetime retirement benefits.

I really don’t blame the public worker rank and file for this. In fact, as the LA Times columnist Steve Lopez recently said (Don’t Blame the State’s Teachers 10/28/12) “As a group (private sector workers), we’re torn between envy and anger, faced with uncertain financial futures while we pay for the comfy retirements of government retirees.” A friend has joked, “Where were we when this gravy train was went by?” Not wanting to be hypocritical I know that if I were a public employee and was offered the same spiking opportunities I would have taken it them too. But this isn’t about blame it’s about correcting a wrong.

Because of, the thinking went at the time, lower pay for government employees should be offset by taxpayer retirement guarantees. That was all well and good until the tide went out on the private sector and exposed the rotten under pinning of the public sector. Again, I don’t blame the public sector workers I think the whole immoral practice of pension spiking was a result of union shenanigans due to their unrestricted power over our state legislators. This is what gave rise to this year’s Prop. 32. This country’s oligarchs saw a chance to deceptively crush the state’s unions. This is frightening thought but the unions have no one to blame but themselves for this challenge.

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I’m not saying that what the Board of Supervisors did in 2002 is the same as what went on in Bell, CA but it came from the same “look how well the private sector is doing – we deserve this” mentality.  It was a culture of total contempt for the people who trusted them.

I don’t know if anyone has looked at what the saving would be if all currently retired public employees had their current retirement pay rolled back to what it would be if their retirement benefits hadn’t been spiked. I’m not suggesting reducing their base pay but just cutting off what was unfairly gained. Maybe if an actuary were to exam this it could be a substantial savings on the local, county and state budgets without reducing the retirement pay that the retirees agreed to when working. If the retiree has already collected what would have been a lump sum payment at retirement the overage should be cut off. If we just wait around for runaway inflation to bail us out the liability is just going to get bigger. There is nothing “grey” about insider trading and conflicts of Interest and there should be nothing grey about gaming a system of public trust.

This brings us back to our little burg north of Santa Rosa. Council members Gary Plass and Susan Jones are good people who care a great deal about our town. However, as retired public employees and the city facing a $26 million dollar unfunded pension liability I think their conflict of interest is just too great to ignore. One can’t help but wonder if they are supporting Measure V to help Healdsburg or to protect their retirement pay. If you have to rebuild the chicken coop you don’t want a fox designing the blueprint?

Read More