I was the only person from the public who showed up to speak at the county supervisors’ budget hearing last week. Over $1 billion of taxpayer dollars was at stake. In terms of an actual hearing, you didn’t miss much; it was over in about three hours. However, in terms of substance, it would behoove people to be better informed, as this particular government entity is the largest of all local government bodies, and what it does, or does not do, affects all residents, including those who live in city jurisdictions.
I likened the budget hearing to bull riding. The politicians and their staff are riding an unwieldy beast hoping a bell will ring in the distance, allowing them to dismount. Alas, no bell is going to ring. They are in this for the long haul, and they are demonstrating nothing of the fortitude and strength to break the bull.
Put another way, despite the record-high stock market, the county is still barely meeting their obligations. In fact, the bull market is the only thing keeping all governments in this state from going bankrupt due to pension obligations. Moreover, unemployment is historically low, yet an inordinate number of people in our county are on welfare, as we have the ignoble distinction of having the third-highest poverty rate in the state. This poverty, however, is not equally placed, as the poverty in the North County is double what it is in the South County.
Nevertheless, the supervisors continue to pursue green elitist policy goals, which inordinately hurt the poor in terms of higher energy costs and fewer good-paying industrial and manufacturing jobs. The point here is that things can only get worse, so the supervisors and their staff should refrain from backslapping one another as if they pulled off an extraordinary feat by not having to dip into reserves this year or lay off staff.
In the greater context, the county is still not throwing enough money, despite the warnings of Supervisor Peter Adam, at the ever-growing maintenance deficit of roads, buildings and infrastructure, which amounts to some $400 million. In the meantime, they have spent $130 million for the new trash digester, and are posed to spend millions more on other green dream schemes, in order to reduce the climate footprint of the county.
Meanwhile, Supervisors Joan Hartmann and Das Williams, with tacit support from Gregg Hart, have signaled their intent to shut down the local oil industry. This, in spite of the fact that oil helps pay the bills unlike any other industry in this county. In addition, it pays the highest wages for people with only a high school education, thereby helping workers and their families to escape poverty. Relatedly, the average county employee’s salary and benefit package now costs $150,000 per year. These costs now comprise more than 60 percent of the county’s $1 billion-plus budget. County government employees now earn four times what the average private-sector worker makes in a year. Needless to say, shutting off oil revenue while paying these exorbitant costs to government employees is certainly not sustainable.