Politician, Heal Thyself

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California Attorney General Jerry Brown, former state governor and now candidate for the office once again, has set a new record for irony. Eager to score political points with the voters — and to keep the focus of the campaign on anything but his record of miserable failure — Brown grandly announced that he is investigating the scandal in Bell.

For those of you who are blessed with citizenship in some other state and may have missed the news, the fabled city of Bell is a small suburb of Los Angeles. It has a population of around 37,000, mainly poor and working class. Somehow the officials of the city found a way to loot this already impoverished berg. In what has to be the most hilarious existing illustration of public choice theory, the city manager, Robert Rizzo (yes, nicknamed “Ratso” Rizzo by his associates), was found to be earning $787,000 a year in salary, with obnoxious pension and health benefits to boot. The police chief is pulling down a tidy $457,000 a year, and the assistant city manager is receiving $376,000. Four of the five city council members “earn” six figures, too. All with great pension and healthcare coverage.

Brown has loudly demanded records regarding pay and pension benefits, issued subpoenas, and promised to depose all Bell officials “under oath.” But this is really rich, coming from Brown. I’ll explain.

To begin with, the fiscal crisis in California is in the main attributable to the outrageously high public employees’ salaries, benefits, and pensions, which are in turn largely attributable to the well-organized public employee unions. Because of the vast sums of money these unions extract from members, they are effective at getting people elected to offices both high and low. At bargaining time, unions control both sides of the table.

Now, in California, the governor who signed into law the permission for public employees to unionize was — Jerry Brown.

Adding another layer of irony is Jerry Brown’s own pension situation. As mayor of Oakland, he earned $115,000 a year in salary, all the while pocketing a $20,000 pension for prior “public service.” At present, because of all the time he’s spent in public office (secretary of state, governor, attorney general), he’s eligible for a nearly $75,000 pension, and it appears that he may be qualified under the special Legislators’ Retirement System (a little-known special system for politicians) to get as much as $110,000.

Maybe he should subpoena himself.

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