California taken apart for shoddy management, out-of-control costs

seal.jpgThink state government is finally getting its act together? Not if you read this scathing report from Bloomberg that examines how former Gov. Gray Davis, along with the legislature, signed off on pay raises and benefit increases that continue to cripple California. Here's the sobering takeaway: "The state's highest-paid employees make far more than comparable workers elsewhere in almost all job and wage categories, from public safety to health care, base pay to overtime." These expenses are crowding out funding for college tuition, health care, public safety, and schools - much like the fiscal situation in the city of L.A.

Payroll data compiled by Bloomberg on 1.4 million public employees in the 12 most populous states show that California has set a pattern of lax management, inefficient operations and out-of-control costs. From coast to coast, states are cutting funding for schools, public safety and the poor as they struggle with fallout left by politicians who made pay-and-pension promises that taxpayers couldn't afford. "It was completely avoidable," said David Crane, a public-policy lecturer at Stanford University. "All it took was for political leaders to think more about the general population and the future, rather than their political futures," said Crane, a Democrat who worked as an economic adviser to former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican. "Citizens should be mad as hell, and they shouldn't take it anymore."


The disparity with other states is also evident in payments for accumulated vacation time when employees leave public service. No other state covered by the data compiled by Bloomberg paid a worker more than $200,000 for accrued leave last year, while 17 people got such payments in California. There were 240 employees who received at least $100,000 in California, compared with 42 in the other 11 states, the data show. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie calls such payments "boat checks" because they can be large enough to buy a yacht. Topping the list was $608,821 paid to psychiatrist Gertrudis Agcaoili, 79, who retired last year from the Napa state mental hospital after a 30-year career. Agcaoili said in a telephone interview that it was her right to take the payment.


One of the first goals of state employee unions when Davis took over in 1999 after 16 years of Republican governors was to unwind curbs on pensions put in place by Governor Pete Wilson in 1991. Workers also wanted broad wage increases. Unions persuaded the California Public Employees' Retirement System to sponsor legislation called Senate Bill 400, which sweetened state and local pensions and gave retroactive increases for tens of thousands of retirees. Highway-patrol officers were granted the right to retire after 30 years of service with 90 percent of their top salaries, a benefit that was copied by police agencies across the state. California's annual payment toward pension obligations ballooned to $3.7 billion in the current fiscal year from $300 million when the bill was enacted. Some cities that adopted the highway-patrol pension plan later cited those costs for contributing to their bankruptcy filings.

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
Recent stories:
Letter from Down Under: Welcome to the Homogenocene
One last Florida photo
Signs of Saturday: No refund
'I Am Woman,' hear them roar
Bobcat crossing

New at LA Observed
On the Media Page
Go to Media

On the Politics Page
Go to Politics
Arts and culture

Sign up for daily email from LA Observed

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
LA Observed on Twitter and Facebook