Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Co-equal Fourth Branch of California Government

The Los Angeles Times today features, what is to me, a surprising article on the California Teacher's Association - the state's largest teacher union.  One prominent Democrat says that the union views itself as 'the co-equal fourth branch of government'.

In my posts and commentary about the fiscal and political state of California, a frequent target is the power and influence of the public sector unions - including the teachers unions.  These unions have had a seriously negative impact on the state of California - sharing the blame with the progressives that dominate the state government and legislature for our current fiscal challenges.  These challenges are not being addressed.  They are deepening - and the 'more of the same' ethically, fiscally, and intellectually dishonest approach to 'correct' these challenges have placed California in a death spiral.

I've cited that California needs the same bold acts of reform as those launched in another progressive state - a state that is turning 'red' because the people of that state have decided to stop 'more of the same' and enact  changes.  When Wisconsin elected Governor Scott Walker and a Republican controlled state house, they sent message that they did not want to become California.

The reforms enacted by Scott Walker and the GOP in Wisconsin targeting the public sector unions - limiting collective bargaining, ending the automatic withdrawal of union dues via payroll deduction, and the other steps to lessen the ability of unions to control government purse strings - has paid immediate real dividends for Wisconsin.  School districts, once in fiscal straits because of collective bargaining agreements that only enriched the unions, now have more control over their fiscal circumstances.  They're in the 'black' - and expanding their services to the students of their districts.  The state and local governments are also retaking control of their spending - and deficits are becoming surpluses....while union membership numbers are collapsing as fast as their power.

That is the model that California and other progressive states need to implement - but seem to lack the will do so.  But if more in California understand the real damage that is being done to all of us, in particular our students, by the California Teachers Association, perhaps we can find the will needed.  This article in the LA Times, is, I think, a step in that direction....even if the LA Times didn't intend it to be.
Last year, as Gov. Jerry Brown hammered out final details of the state budget, he huddled around a conference table with three of the most powerful people in state government: the Assembly speaker, the Senate leader — and Joe Nuñez, chief lobbyist for the California Teachers Assn.

California was on the edge of fiscal crisis. Negotiations had come down to one sticking point: Brown and the legislators would balance the books by assuming that billions of dollars in extra revenue would materialize, then cut deeply from schools if it didn't.

Nuñez said no.

Opposition from the powerful union, which had just staged a week of public protests against budget cuts, could mean a costly legal challenge. So the group took a break, and the officials retired to another room to hash out something acceptable to CTA while Nuñez awaited their return.

It may seem unorthodox for an unelected citizen to sit with Sacramento's elite as they pick winners and losers in the annual spending sweepstakes. But few major financial decisions in California are made without Nuñez, who represents what is arguably the most potent force in state politics.

Even before CTA helped Jerry Brown win election, he was sympathetic to many of its causes, such as limiting standardized testing and reducing government's role in schools. On his first full day in office, he sacked the majority of the state Board of Education.

He replaced several proponents of charter schools, parent power and teacher accountability with people friendlier to the union, including one of its lobbyists, Patricia Rucker. A few days later, Brown proposed a budget that eliminated money for a state database of such information as which courses a teacher had taught and what credentials he or she had, a system CTA opposed.
This is a rare, read it all article in the LA Times.

Oh, and how did a deal finally get cut for the California budget?

The deal came when the elected Democrat leadership agreed to a provision that stated no matter how fiscally strapped a school district might be - it could not lay off any teachers during the fiscal year.

So where is California fiscally?  Our budget deficit continues to soar - with Governor Brown's bet that the Facebook IPO would generate billions widely missing the mark and now even more so with state sales tax revenues being down 33.5% from what was estimated / projected in the state budget.  The $9.6 billion cash deficit that existed on the June 30th is now $18 billion and growing.
The state has avoided default by temporarily borrowing from state trust funds, but those accounts will soon need their cash back to continue operating. Today California quickly began trying to sell $10 billion in municipal bonds to fund the record $28 billion they need to keep the lights on. With tax revenue plummeting and the state already the second lowest rated credit in the country, if the independent credit rating agencies downgrade the state to “junk bond", California will be short up to $18 billion and default.
California is America's Greece and the point that like Spain, CA is committing to spend $100 billion on a high speed rail network that has no viable business need or market  - all in the name of 'stimulus' - but will only enrich unions and other allies of Governor Brown.

The Golden State is no longer golden - and its time to realize why this is the case.

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