Giveaway almost becomes law

Oct. 8, 2012

By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — If California voters grant the state government the billions in higher taxes in Proposition 30 that Gov. Jerry Brown and legislative Democrats have been demanding, those same officials might be expected to squander the money by shoveling even more benefits to already well-compensated government workers.

Evidence for such an expectation is a scheme to enrich unionized police and firefighters that came within a whisker of becoming law.

Even in its watered-down form, Assembly Bill 2451 would have exposed California cities and municipalities to an endless amount of financial liabilities for the families of deceased police and firefighters. The legislation also illustrated the surreptitious strategies used to expand benefits in California, as government unions quietly work the system for higher compensation.

The story of AB2451, even though it ended with a veto, also confirms that legislators have in no way reformed their free-spending ways.

In the private sector, employees typically receive injury and death benefits through insurance, and such benefits are linked to work performed on the job. In “public safety” jobs in the public sector, taxpayers foot the bill for disability and death benefits.

Politicians — always currying favor with the unions representing police, firefighters and prison guards — continually expand the categories of illness presumed to be caused by job-related injuries.

So if a retired firefighter or police officer develops heart disease, cancer or any number of other common diseases, the illness often is presumed to be caused by the retiree’s former job. That presumption releases a stream of taxpayer-funded benefits. Under current law, if that employee dies from myriad ailments within four-and-a-half years after the date of injury, the family can receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in survivorship benefits. In the public sector, it’s far easier to make a claim than in the private sector.

Apparently, this wasn’t generous enough for Assembly Speaker John Perez and the Democratic leadership. They came up with a plan that allows family members of deceased police and firefighters to claim more than $300,000 in survivorship benefits up to a year after the person’s death, no matter how old that retired public-safety official may be.

The bill also specified the ailments that are considered “hero ailments” — deaths cause by working as a cop or firefighter. These include: hernia, pneumonia, heart trouble, cancer and leukemia, tuberculosis, blood-borne infectious diseases and certain skin infections.

As the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, summarizing arguments against the bill by local governments, explained: “Thus, any retired safety officer who dies in his or her 80s or 90s of a cancer or heart-related condition would be presumed to have a work-related cause, and his or her dependents would be entitled to a death benefit.

“But with the incidence of cancer and heart conditions as the cause of death for many elderly people, the causation for someone 20, 30, or more years removed from service is much more debatable.”

Amended

The legislation was amended to “merely” expand the time to nine years after injury in which a benefit claim can be made. It removed a couple of the presumptions from the list, but this still would have been a costly giveaway and provides insight into how legislators think.

Still, it passed overwhelmingly. It even had some original support from Republicans, until Jon Fleischman of the Republican-oriented Flash Report website and others started waving the red flags. GOP support then evaporated.

“What is needed is rational, thoughtful consideration of balancing the serious fiscal constraints faced at all levels of government against our shared priority to adequately and fairly compensate the families of those public safety heroes who succumb to work-related injuries and disease,” Gov. Brown said in his on-point veto message.

But Brown is not so much a born-again fiscal conservative, as someone so committed to the Prop. 30 tax hike plan that he will not give opponents any ammunition to use against it. As the Sacramento Bee reported, “Larry Gerston, a government professor at San Jose State University, said that Brown’s moderation in bill signings points to a much larger goal: passing Prop. 30, his multibillion-dollar tax hike, in November.”

Brown reminds me of the kid who is on his best behavior — i.e., cleaning his room and cutting the lawn — to prove to Mom and Dad that he deserves that new bicycle. Don’t figure the new habits to continue long after he gets what he wants.

Union power

AB2451 is built on the fiction, perpetrated by unions eager to use emotional claims to divert more tax dollars to their members, that police officers and firefighters have such dangerous jobs that they die early, which could leave their families destitute.

But based on data from the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, the longest-living category of public employee is a police officer, followed closely by firefighters. They live, on average, well into their 80s, which is one of the reasons the state has such a large unfunded pension liability. Public-safety workers receive, by far, the most generous pension and health benefits.

In California, they can retire with 90 percent of their final year’s pay at as soon as age 50 – and spouses receive generous benefits, too. Police and firefighters don’t come near the top of the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ list of most-dangerous jobs.

The Democrats are always talking about shared sacrifice, yet the same-old, same-old takes place in the Capitol — powerful interest groups keep pushing for, and often getting, more.

The state is out of cash. Brown reminds us of that every chance he can. Some cities are teetering on bankruptcy, thanks largely to pensions, medical benefits and other compensation paid to municipal employees.

Taxpayers and job-creators are fleeing the state. Legislators should be reforming the system so that California can be competitive again.

Instead, they want to keep comforting the comfortable (union members) and afflicting the afflicted (taxpayers).

Yes, Brown vetoed some of the worst nonsense, but AB2451 shows what the Legislature will do when it has more money, and no one is looking. Is it wise to give them more of your money?

Steven Greenhut is vice president of journalism at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Write to him at: [email protected]

15 comments

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  1. Tax Target
    Tax Target 8 October, 2012, 08:29

    The only thing we get out of the Kalifornsky politburo is a very loud FLUSHING sound as this idiots do the same tired things over and over and over. About the only thing they don’t bless with is wiping.

    We need a political RotoRooter to clean out the plumbing in Sacramento. In fact, shut it down. Close it up. We need to set up a new government in this state.

    Reply this comment
  2. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 October, 2012, 08:51

    The fact that that bill is even sponsored shows how screwed up the state is and how entrenched the special interests really are. And do not forget the ORIGINAL version allowed the million dollar giveaway for 30 years after retirement, which means basically every gov stooge that had a so called safety job was going to get the taxpayer funded million dollar gift.

    Reply this comment
  3. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 8 October, 2012, 09:03

    Very potty mouth…so becoming of bunker doomers….are’nt you embarassed…no shame…

    Governor Brown is actively trying to solve all the fringe, nutty, rightie faux pas of Herr Arnold…it takes time…such s sorry mess he left the schools, budget, enviornment, other government services.

    Reply this comment
  4. us citizen
    us citizen 8 October, 2012, 09:38

    I’m giving out two likes today so far, and one……..you are out of your mind.
    Or perhaps, two,….. yes you have your head on your shoulders and one……..what reality are you living in?

    Reply this comment
  5. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 October, 2012, 09:52

    Teddy likes to comment under multiple names to try to make it appear there is more than one stooge troughie here, don’t fall for it, Uhaul is, always will be and always has been a teddy sock puppet.

    Reply this comment
  6. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 8 October, 2012, 11:44

    US:

    Open your mind..these CWD gloomers have brain washed you….they want you in your cubicle thinking one day you will be rich….hardly without a break out!

    Reply this comment
  7. BobA
    BobA 8 October, 2012, 12:26

    Ulysses Uhaul:

    You are proof that liberalism is a mental disorder. You mind is so open that your brain popped out long ago but I doubt if you even noticed. This forum will be a lot more enjoyable when you take your inane comments and liberal ideology over to MoveOn.org or some other such liberal forum.

    Reply this comment
  8. Cynthia Brown
    Cynthia Brown 8 October, 2012, 12:55

    According to Steven Greenhut, “The state is out of cash. Brown reminds us of that every chance he can. Some cities are teetering on bankruptcy, thanks largely to pensions, medical benefits and other compensation paid to municipal employees.”

    This a total lie. As public finance experts around the country, including Shelby Chodos at the Kennedy School at Harvard University, have stated repeatedly cities, counties and states are out of money for one main reason – a drastic drop off in tax revenues that occurred when our economy crashed in 2008. Public sector pay and pensions and other benefits had nothing whatsoever to do with this disaster that we are still crawling our way out of. Blame all your friends on Wall Street who are desperately trying to privatize every function of the government – corrections, military, public safety, schools, even the Post Office. If they succeed this country will not be worth living in.

    Reply this comment
  9. Thomas Molitor
    Thomas Molitor 8 October, 2012, 13:18

    As Milton Friedman once wrote, “government bureaucracies — especially unionized ones — are like economic black holes where increased ‘inputs’ lead to declining ‘outputs.'”

    The more that is spent on government schools, the less educated are the students. The more that is spent on welfare, the more poverty there is, and so on.

    Reply this comment
  10. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 8 October, 2012, 16:17

    As Milton Friedman once wrote, “government bureaucracies — especially unionized ones — are like economic black holes where increased ‘inputs’ lead to declining ‘outputs.’”

    The more that is spent on government schools, the less educated are the students. The more that is spent on welfare, the more poverty there is, and so on.
    ==
    I would agree with this.

    Reply this comment
  11. Bob
    Bob 8 October, 2012, 18:33

    Public sector pay and pensions and other benefits had nothing whatsoever to do with this disaster that we are still crawling our way out of.

    That’s hilarious, Cynthia.

    Reply this comment
  12. Bob
    Bob 8 October, 2012, 18:48

    Now, now, Steven.

    Don’t you know that nothing is too good for our government masters and their minions?

    Reply this comment
  13. us citizen
    us citizen 8 October, 2012, 19:04

    Uhaul: Im far from being brainwashed. I live in reality. I also make enough to make myself happy. So please dont worry about me. The doomers as you put them arent really doomers, they just see things as they are. Its the people with their heads in the sand that are the problems.

    Oh Cindy Cindy Cindy……….When pensions and salaries of govt employees out weigh what the private sector pays in, in taxes………someone is going to be a looser. There doesnt have to be a drop off in tax revenues, when the govt sector is taking more than what is being taken in. And the private sector always runs a business better because they will go out of business if their expenditures out weigh their profit. Tell me exactly how well the govt has done with Amtrack, the post office, social security and heaven forbid when BO care kicks in. You should be more worried about that.

    Reply this comment
  14. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 8 October, 2012, 19:53

    BoBA. It is my job to irritate you…..somebody is challenging your brain washing….

    Keep an open mind…few can make it without help. Help some people to fulfill their dreams!

    Reply this comment
  15. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 8 October, 2012, 20:00

    US:

    Are you living in bubble? Laffer curves are laughable. Keyensian reality is stimulus to provide liquidity for everyone…low long term rates bring positive current. cash flow. I could go on…but baby steps may be needed to defend trickle down government.

    Reply this comment

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