A couple of weeks ago, the governor and legislative leaders took
time out from the self-proclaimed budget crisis — the governor has
called it “financial Armageddon” — to journey across the continent
to participate in the inaugural festivities. Although we have our
doubts about President Obama — starting with the pork laden
stimulus package — there were a couple of nuggets of wisdom in his
inaugural address.

To begin with, Obama praised the selflessness of workers who, to
help us get through dark times, “would rather cut their hours than
see a friend lose their job.” This, of course, is anathema to
Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate Pro Tem Daryl Steinberg.
While supporting higher taxes for all, they have been staunchly
resisting the governor’s proposal that state workers take an unpaid
two-day furlough each month to help us through our cash flow
problem. This, in spite of the fact that the Census Bureau lists
California public employees as the highest paid in the nation.

Taxpayers hope that our state leaders were attentive the next day as
well when the president told his staff, “However long we are keepers
of the public trust we should never forget we are here as public
servants and public service is a privilege.” It is not about
yourself, he added. The president also spoke of using precious tax
dollar wisely and the importance of government belt tightening, at a
time when Americans are tightening theirs.

He followed up by signing a presidential order establishing a
moratorium on raises for senior staff making more than $100,000.
Well, it’s a start. It is interesting to note that that about 17,500
state workers make a six-figure base salary.

In contrast, both Bass and Steinberg have equivocated when it comes
to limiting the budgets for their own offices. And even the
governor, in spite of his tough talk, has been freely making
appointments of old friends and former legislative allies to
non-vital — and probably unnecessary — state boards and
commissions that pay generous six figure salaries in return for
attending occasional meetings.

A major problem for taxpayers is that our legislative leaders regard
state employment as a jobs program. Jobs for them and for their
supporters in the public employee unions. Contrary to the statement
of the president, they regard government service as being all about
them, not as the president said, “simply and absolutely about
advancing the interests of Americans.”

Most taxpayers do not object to good pay for public employees. The
problem begins when average hardworking citizens, many of whom are
struggling to hang on to their jobs with the state unemployment rate
now at 9.3 percent, see state workers, who in theory work for them,
doing much better than they are in terms of pay and job security.

With the state facing a $42 billion deficit and calls from the
Legislature and governor for tax increases to close the gap, most
California working people do not want to see their taxes go up so
that public employees can continue to ride the gravy train.

Whatever comes from current efforts to clean up the budget mess,
there will be no permanent solution until our elected officials
change their attitudes about what constitutes public service, both
for them and the public employees.