Local Government Scandals, High Salaries, Pensions and Prop 22

Joel Fox
Editor and Co-Publisher of Fox and Hounds Daily

Timing is everything the old saying goes and that wisdom may apply directly to Proposition 22 on the November ballot. The goal of the ballot measure’s supporters is to set up a wall between local government funds and a voracious state government. The campaign for passing Prop 22, lead by the League of California Cities, describes the problem as state raids and borrowing of local funds jeopardizes public safety, transit and other vital local services.

But, headlines dealing with local governments over the last few months have been about excessive pay for local officials, free tickets to big-time events, and growing pension and health obligations that put a squeeze on funding local services.

Voters might ask if a shortfall in local budgets is due to the state reaching into local government treasuries or if the problem is self-inflicted by city officials voting for over-generous pay and pension plans.

In liberal San Francisco, a ballot measure to limit pension excess is headed up by Jeff Adachi, the city’s Public Defender. His reason for taking the unusual step of controlling public pensions is because the pension portion of the city budget is cutting funds for his office and other services offered to city residents.

Attorney General Jerry Brown has filed charges against officials in the City of Bell over the outrageous salaries, which have brought national and international attention on California. At the same time, Brown said he is opening investigations into the salaries paid out in other local governments to see if they are untenable and if local taxpayers were victimized in funding the salaries and benefits.

In Bell, citizens were paying higher taxes, penalties and fees to help fund the extremely high payouts to local officials.

Is a similar situation playing out in other local governments from water districts to redevelopment agencies to city halls?

On Friday, the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission declared that local officials must report the free tickets they receive for concerts, ball games and the like, a special privilege not enjoyed by city residents.

The Prop 22 campaign is asking voters to trust the local officials, not the state, with taxpayers’ money.

However, with so many news stories questioning local government operations, proponents of the measure have a much tougher selling job with the voters. Election results have turned on much less.

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