A State of Total Insanity

Two recent stories out of California show that what is already the most stupidly governed state is slipping into outright insanity.

The first is a new illustration of the crazy compensation levels of all too many state employees.  It turns out that the chief psychologist for the state's prison system earned $838,706 -- last year alone!  To be precise, the shrink earned somewhere between $261,408 and $308,640 in salary, with the remainder coming from bonuses or cashing in unused sick leave.

This is not an anomalous case.  Of the ten highest-paid California state employees (all earning more than a half-million bucks a year), seven worked for California's grotesquely dysfunctional prison system.  Of those, four were prison doctors or dentists.

Other high-paid officials include the federal receiver who monitors the California prison system, Clark Kelso, at $508,140, and CalPERS chief investment officer Joe Dear at $548,142.

Clark Kelso, by the bye, was hired because in 2005, a federal judge actually took over the California prison system's medical system.  This development came on the heels of lawsuits on behalf of several dozen convicts who died in prison, allegedly because of poor medical care.

California's prison system is a poster child for the folly of government monopolies.  It is a sprawling system, housing 163,000 prisoners, and it is so overcrowded the U.S. Supreme Court recently ordered that it release 37,000 prisoners.  It is a deformed creature completely created by Jerry Brown, the worst governor in California's history.  Brown was the lunatic who in 1978 allowed California public employees to unionize, and he has diligently done the bidding of the prison guard union ever since.  This has included refusing to allow private prisons to compete with the inefficient government ones or send inmates to prisons run by other states (both forms of "outsourcing") -- all the while allowing their compensation packages (including lavish pensions and health care benefits) to grow explosively.  ("Outsourcing" here is a misleading term for contracting with private companies to perform government work.)

Now, the state already faces a $19-billion deficit from last year.  And while this year's deficit was supposedly eliminated by spending cuts and projected economic growth, the growth looks dicey at this point, and the spending cuts appear illusory.

We get another glimpse of California's fiscal insanity with the news that even in the face of the extreme financial crisis the state and its cities face, the state's biggest public employee union, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), is fighting to stop fiscally strapped Californian cities from outsourcing library operations.

Two cities in California -- Camarillo and Santa Clarita -- decided to bypass their county library system and instead hire the private company Library Systems and Services (LSSI) to run the city libraries.  A few other California cities have done the same in the past.  So a handful of the over 1,000 public libraries in California have decided to save money while maintaining the city services by outsourcing.

However, even this pathetic, meager stab at privatization -- in a state verging on insolvency, filled with cities many of which are verging on bankruptcy -- has aroused the ire of the SEIU.  SEIU tool Assemblyman Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara) has introduced a bill (AB 438) that in effect would stop any more cities from contracting out library services to private companies.

To be precise, this benighted bill would allow outsourcing library services only if no public employees would be "displaced" -- meaning that no public employees could even be transferred to other work or libraries elsewhere, much less laid off -- no matter how much it saved the city or how deeply the city is cash-strapped.  Even more outrageously, the bill prohibits outsourcing to any private company whose compensation is lower than what the public library employees receive -- which negates the whole reason for outsourcing to begin with, and ensures that cities can find no relief going forward from the high compensation rates extracted by the unions.

Amazingly, in a state with a continuing multi-billion-buck deficit, the State Assembly passed this piece of rent-seeking dreck on a party-line vote (with all the Democrats supporting it), and it is awaiting approval in the State Senate.  It is a testament to the corruption of the Democrats and the greed of the public employee unions.  The SEIU thieves simply couldn't care less about the citizens of the state getting better library service for less out of their pockets.  They have nothing but profound hatred and contempt for the citizens.

How long the citizens of California will take this sort of abuse before they wake up is beyond my ken to discern.  But when they do, I hope that they vote to simply ban public employee unions outright. The harm these unions have caused the state in the three decades they have been allowed is beyond calculation.

Gary Jason is an academic philosopher and contributing editor to Liberty Unbound.  He is the author of the forthcoming book Dangerous Thoughts. 

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