I recently wrote about the enormous growth in the cost of county government vis-. . .-vis the paltry growth in private-sector wage increases over time. Namely, since 1992, county government, including employment costs, has grown 300-500 percent, 10 times what the average family income has grown by, a mere 30 percent.
To wit, Supervisor Das Williams remarked that there must be something wrong in the private sector that wages have not kept up with inflation. Supervisor Joan Hartmann then opined that perhaps the disparity in the private sector was due to CEOs making inordinate amounts of money in comparison to the working class. Dear supervisors: close but no cigar.
These comments reveal the most distinguishing characteristic among South County politicians. That is, not that they are all radical progressives, which they are, but that virtually none of them have ever worked in the private sector. Most of them have worked for government, or in the nonprofit sector, their entire adult lives. This lack of work experience in the real world has distorted their world view and value of what it takes to make it in the private sector as an employee or an owner of a business.
For one thing, neither government nor nonprofit entities pay all the same taxes as does the private sector. Moreover, government has the ability to tax and raise fees when they need money, while nonprofits can solicit tax-deductible donations from individuals and foundations, or hand-outs from the government, to make ends meet.
Having worked in government for so long has distorted the economic reality of these politicians, as they have been able to rely on taxes, fees and fines imposed by hook, crook and fiat to pay the bills, never having to compete or perform in the marketplace in order to survive. Case in point? The environmental health services division needed more money to pay for their pension costs, so the supervisors just raised fees by nearly $1 million. The state needed more money to pay for road maintenance, so they raised the gas tax by several billion dollars.
Wages in the private sector are relatively flat here, not because employers are greedy, but because these same politicians have destroyed the best-paying jobs in the private sector in their war against energy use and production, ostensibly out of concern for “pollution” and climate change.
In other words, they have removed the rungs in the ladder of upward mobility that represented blue-collar, middle-class jobs. The average family income would have risen if we had not lost scores of manufacturing and industrial jobs, including in the oil industry — jobs that pay higher salaries and better benefits for people with just a high school education, not to mention the generation of taxes to pay for government services and pensions.
Finally, with respect to gross income disparities, what none of these politicians want to admit is that the pensions being given to government employees are the pensions of a millionaire. They should do the math. For a government employee to be able to earn a significant portion of their salary for the rest of their life means that somehow, someone had to invest more than the equivalent of their entire lifetime earnings in a fund that made incredible returns on the investment. But, of course, that did not happen. Instead, billions of dollars of debt have accumulated, along with billions more in fees and taxes.
For instance, a late, distinguished former district attorney hauled in $225,000 per year in retirement. In today’s market conditions, he would have had to have accumulated $5 million in investments in order to get that rate of return for life, but he did not make as much as $5 million in his entire career. Where did the money come from? Taxes, fees and debt.
Hence, supervisors, what is amiss here has nothing to do with the private sector as it relates to these income disparities.