Photo courtesty of Flickr user images_of_money
The dying words of Peter Parker’s uncle to his superhero nephew were “With great power comes great responsibility.”
California, with its back against a fiscal cliff, knows a thing or two about the power that comes with wielding the budget cutting sword, but the latest victim of the slashing is another curious step by Sacramento in the face of rising populist sentiment against such moves.
As part of a union pay-cut deal approved last month, California’s student state workers are the latest victim of cost-cutting measures in an attempt to shore up the state’s finances. About 1,600 state student assistants will be the collateral damage of the labor deal that is intended to help close the $15.7 billion budget deficit.
The workers, who work in a variety of agencies completing tasks from phone answering to scientific work in the field, earned $13.4 million last year, amounting to only 9 cents for every $1,000 spent on employee wages. They receive no benefits, are primarily part time workers, and they make less than regular employees. Additionally, their age group – 20- to 24-year-olds – has an unemployment rate at a worrisome 18.1 percent, far higher than the 10.7 percent average for all age groups in the state.
What’s going on here? While it’s bewildering that the state would target workers that make up what is just a tiny sliver of the fiscal pie, California Forward’s research into the economic priorities of other sectors of the state reveal that the disconnect is deeper than it appears. Is it necessary to wipe hundreds of youth jobs off the books when the Department of State Parks is sitting on a $54 million surplus? When state lawmakers have given over half of their staffers pay raises in the last 12 months?
With Governor Brown’s tax-raising initiative on the table in November, it seems unwise to appear tone deaf to populist sentiments that have been nearly unilateral, whether in reaction to recent decisions made by local governments with seemingly high city council salaries or to the aforementioned staff pay raises in Sacramento just before the payroll freeze went into effect.
All have plausible justifications in favor of the respective decisions, but again, with our own polling showing a faith in elected officials, particularly those in Sacramento, teetering on the brink of collapse, one can’t help but question how connected our leaders are to those they represent.