If the state gave you a monopoly for a job which paid $400,000 a year for six months of work, were driven to and from jobs in a town car or limo, had all of your business expenses paid for by someone else, and were on your way to earning a public pension of a quarter million dollars per year to which you didn’t contribute a dime of your own money, would you be demanding a raise in this economy? You might if you were a state-licensed Bar Pilot.

Most people never heard of the San Francisco Bar Pilots until the Cosco Busan oil spill, when a ship under the control of a state-mandated pilot hit the Bay Bridge. After the accident in 2007, several changes in the state pilot system were enacted by the Legislature and the State Board of Pilot Commissioners was put under the jurisdiction of the Business, Transportation & Housing Agency (BT & H). Since then, BT & H has made significant improvements in much of the oversight of the state pilot monopoly.

Unfortunately, one thing that hasn’t changed is the process for the setting of pilot rates – a byzantine and politicized process that has yielded outsized salaries for this monopoly for years. Since the last rate hearing in 2002, total pilot incomes have increased approximately 60% from around $250,000 to $400,000 – including a spike which yielded incomes of over $490,000 in 2006. To put this in context, in 2002 average pilot incomes were about six-times the average income of a Bay Area resident; by the end of 2010, average pilot incomes were about nine-and-a-half times the Bay Area average. To add insult to injury, the Pilot Commission is citing the Cosco Busan oil spill as a reason for increasing salaries beyond $500,000 per year.

At a time when all of us are trying to recover from the great recession, it is still hard for many to find work. The state of California is making and proposing cuts that are so draconian as to be unthinkable even a few short years ago. Yet, a small, elite and wealthy group of individuals already blessed with a monopoly is seeking a raise from the State of California – one that will take them to over $500,000 per year for six months of work.

Now it’s in the Legislature’s hands, and they must decide, literally, if they want to help the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.