Monday, July 13, 2009

Indentured Servants

As California weathers this budget crisis, it has been disappointing to see the governor target the men and women who devote their lives to serving their fellow citizens.

Public servants work to make California better. They are not the enemy in this budget crisis. But the governor would use this crisis to destroy the incentives for our best and brightest to consider a career path in public service.

Business managers know that employee morale is key to a productive workforce. The same goes for recruiting and retaining talent. So what is to be gained from the governor scapegoating our public servants to make them feel more like indentured servants?

All together, the Governor has proposed to reduce state employee pay by nearly 25%, eliminate two holidays, reduce health care services and increase employee premiums costs, eliminate state health care payments, increase required employee contributions for health care and pension plans, reduce retirement benefit formulas, extend service time needed for vesting in CalPERS, and to layoff 5,000 employees.

Some attack state workers for earning any benefits at all, but a decent salary and decent benefits are crucial to attracting and retaining a stable workforce. Some have argued that the state workforce should be trimmed and that these cutbacks are necessary to “trim the fat.” But studies have shown that California’s public sector is actually quite lean compared to other states. According to a 2008 study, California had the second lowest number of public employees relative to population among the states.

Yes, there is a financial imperative to reduce state spending. That means cuts for state workers may be necessary, just as cuts are necessary in the private sector, to help the state weather the current financial storm. But if pushed too far, the state stops functioning, just as any private business stops functioning without its workforce.

Schoolchildren don’t teach themselves, fires don’t put themselves out, and parks don’t manage themselves. We need dedicated, educated, and qualified people to do these jobs. If the governor continues waging his war against public servants, we face a difficult question: what caliber of individual will be willing to do these important jobs if they can’t make a decent living and are constantly scapegoated? A functional, experienced, dynamic public workforce is critical to California’s future.