August 5, 2007

We like what we read...

A little slow on the uptake but at least the battle lines are getting drawn. The danger to our society was/is not Al Qaeda all along. Its public employee unions. (and of course the politicians who feel the must pander to them over the small but more numerous voices of taxpayers) Hmmm who would have thought....
Wednesday, August 1, 2007
Cops' pay has been ripe for backlash

Register columnist

The Board of Supervisors says its decision yesterday to begin considering whether to roll back some sheriff's deputies' and D.A. investigators' retirement benefits is necessary because the supervisors must uphold the state Constitution.

And, yes, if the benefits are ultimately cut, it will be because a court rules the 2001 benefits deal violates the Constitution.

But don't make the mistake of believing that at its core this is about fealty to the Constitution. That's a means to an end. That end? Well, the noblest would be fiscal responsibility – not driving the county deeper into unfunded liability. That's undoubtedly amotive, and Supervisor John Moorlach says it is his.

But what I believe this really is about in the global sense – the reason there's support for this beyond one number-crunching supervisor – is because of growing backlash against what are perceived as overly generous contracts for law enforcement. And against police unions' ability to extract those contracts from politicians.

Three- or four-day work weeks. Liberal overtime and vacation policies. Retirement after 25 years at age 50 at 75 percent of their highest salary. (The so-called "3-percent-at-50" that is the subject of this debate.) Stress-related retirements that allow cops to retire with 100 percent of their salary at almost any age.

I'm not just talking about O.C. cops. I'm talking about cops statewide, perhaps best exemplified by a prison-guard union so powerful we're about to be put under total federal control. Politicians who try to rein in compensation find themselves facing election opponents funded by police unions.

The citizenry gives cops tremendous police powers to begin with. When it comes to believe cops are also so powerful they can write their own tickets financially? That breeds a sense the checks and balances are out of whack.

This perception – true or not – has been building now, for at least two decades, with a significant break after 9/11, when we realized just how much these brave men and women mean to us. It's no coincidence that the 3-at-50 deal was cut in December 2001. I'm not here to argue for either side; I'm just analyzing what I believe to be the real driving force, where the overall political will to do this comes from. Grocery clerks' bennies cut. Other hourly jobs go overseas. Cops get fat increases? Backlash city.

See, this has huge statewide implications. Other cities and counties are watching. They were just waiting for someone like Moorlach to come along and make the first move. Moorlach's chief of staff, Mario Mainero, estimates public agencies statewide have $13 billion in unfunded liability because of retroactive pensions.

Here's a very telling indication of how big a deal this is: Mike Capaldi, Dale Dykema, Buck Johns, Tracy Price, Rich Wagner. You know who these guys are? They are leaders in the Lincoln Club, the high-rolling conservative

Republican group founded here in 1962. Some are also members of the even more high-falutin' New Majority.

These guys don't play politics at this level. They're kingmakers. They sit back, give audiences to would-be politicians and write checks. They help put supervisors in office; they don't deign to attend their meetings, for God's sake. But there they were yesterday, sitting in a pack in the Board Chambers. I asked each when he last attended a Board meeting. This is, after all, the most powerful elected local body in Orange County. Capaldi: Can't remember the last time. Dykema: Never. Johns: 15 years ago. Price: Never. Wagner: Years ago.

Wagner, the president, got up and told the Board that hisboard had already voted on whether the county should challenge the 3-at-50. The vote: Yes, 24: No, 0.

It was interesting to see the two men the Lincoln Club helped breathe life into at their political infancies – Mike Carona and Tony Rackauckas– get up yesterday and more or less side with their employees. Both men were somewhat cautious – although Carona called cutting 3-at-50 now "go(ing) to guns" – and urged the supes to take time to study the matter.

T-Rack came off as about the most even-keeled speaker of the day, drawing on his staff lawyers' analysis (do I sense the hand of B. Gurwitz?) and his own experience as a judge to caution the five-member non-lawyer Board that if they go to court, it won't be the slam-dunk victory they might have been led to believe. Can't wait.

Contact the writer: Mickadeit writes Mon.-Fri. Contact him at 714-796-4994 or

Lakewood Accountability Action Group™ LAAG | | Lakewood, CA
A California Non Profit Association | Demanding action and accountability from local government™

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