I’ve hesitated to turn in my absentee ballot for California’s May 19 special election. At first I wasn’t planning to vote at all – a surprising act for me since I’ve actually stopped in the middle of lectures to excoriate my law students for not voting. Like many Californians, I’m fed up and disgusted with my state government. What makes it worse is that I work for my state government.
At issue is whether I: 1) hold my nose and vote for the ballot measures “intended” to balance the state budget; or 2) take away the state’s credit card, wait for the Legislature and the Governor to get their collective acts together, and risk my own layoff? In other words, do I do what I think is in my own best interests or what is in the best interests of the state?
If the budget measures pass, I might avoid being laid off. If they fail, my chances of being laid off increase. However, given the ineptness of our state leaders, I’m not convinced that, even if the budget measures pass, I won’t be laid off because I think they'll just continue business as usual with no systemic, meaningful change to state budgeting and spending. So if I vote in favor of the budget measures and they fail, not only are the chances of my being laid off increased, but I will have compromised my own beliefs for nothing.
I don’t believe in my state government. Here’s why:
1) Once the budget passed, the Governor and legislative leaders were back to their old tricks of hooking up their buddies by appointing them to paying positions on state boards and commission that already had enough members to conduct the business of those boards and commissions. Some of the appointments were just laughable and just emphasized that, in state government, there are the connected and the unconnected. The connected always live to be appointed another day by the leaders in their party, regardless of the cost to the public fisc.
2) Every year, state agencies run – not walk, but run – to spend all the money allotted them regardless of whether they actually need to spend the money. Why? Because they might not be budgeted for the same amount next year if they spend less than they were budgeted for this year. It’s just plain crazy. Zero based budgeting, anyone?
3) The University of California system has run amok. The regents just voted to increase student fees while at the same time increasing the base pay for newly hired chancellors using the same tired argument that they need the base pay increases to “attract talent.” If these new chancellors had any integrity, they’d give the salary increases back, even if these salary increases are new to them.
4) Assembly Speaker Bass approved raises for Assembly staff, only to rescind them when the press brought the raises to light.
5) The State Personnel Board is still listing open positions. If we’re in such a budget crisis, should the state be hiring anyone at all?
6) Is it me, or is it beyond crazy that one legislator – Abel Maldonado – could engage in nothing short of extortion in order for the Legislature to be able to pass the budget? I was surprised that he didn’t ask for a pony named Macaroni as a condition for getting his support. Another example of more politicking, less governing.
7) If we're in such a budget mess that required executive-imposed two-day-per-month furloughs, why did the Department of Personnel Administration negotiate a one-day-per-month furlough with the SEIU, the union representing almost half of the state's civil service workers? Even more, why is the state legislature sitting on this contract? Because the SEIU's state body is opposing the budget measures. Again, another example of more politicking, less governing.
8) We keep passing initiatives to increase funding to K-12 education, yet our public schools continue to languish near the bottom. I'm convinced that the performance of our public schools isn't a money issue, but a leadership and innovation issue.
As you can imagine, my conscience tells me that the more I prop up this failed state government, the more it will continue to fail. Like AIG.
On the other hand, I have one year and one and one-half months until I vest. If through some miracle I can hang on until then, I will have something to show for my time with the state. Not that I believe that I will actually get a pension, but I will at least have a legal claim to one. If I can ride out one more year of budget cuts and bad state governance, I will have at least vested and still be somewhat young enough to move on and try to vest elsewhere, or at least fatten my 401K.
So, do I vote my interests or do I vote my conscience?
We desperately need someone like President Obama on the state level – a politician who is willing to look out for the long term best interests of the state even at the expense of his or her short term political ambitions. But that kind of animal doesn’t exist in the zoo that is our state government.