Exploring Public Safety Pensions (Part 3)

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Exploring Public Safety Pensions (Part 1) explored how public safety pensions came into being, the forces that influenced the process, etc. It is not intended to be a polemic, only an overview. In Part 2, we turned to the recent case of Orange County California vs The Association of Orange County Deputy Sheriffs. In Part 3, we look at the core problem more specifically and discuss what can be done to curb pension abuses, with a specific eye on California, since the problem there is so acute.
For most of the voting public, public safety pensions for police officers, state troopers, and deputy sheriffs is not really the core problem.
In California, as with other states and jurisdictions, other groups who were not front line law enforcement saw that police officers were getting generous pensions and wanted in on the action. Prison guards, probation officers and others wanted the same deal that the police got, and they pushed for it even though they didn’t fit in the same category.

Whether or not they were successful was largely a measure of how much of their salaries they were willing to give up on the front end to pay politicians who would reward them on the back end.

It always comes down to quid pro quo – pay to play.

California was particularly beat up by this situation since the California Correctional Peace Officers Association (CCPOA), the prison guard’s union is very powerful. Again, the members figured out early on that if they wanted better pay and benefits, the only way to do it was to legally pay off legislators in Sacramento. There are over 31,000 prison guards in California and they all contributed generously to their political action committees. The result was that they received the same generous pension arrangement that the California Highway Patrol/State Police received. Even though the public wouldn’t have gone along with it, their representatives in the legislature passed it into law because they were paid by the union to do so.

Lobbying efforts and campaign contributions by the CCPOA have helped secure passage of many legislative bills favorable to union members, including bills that increase prison terms, member pay, and enforce current drug laws. The CCPOA takes the position that correctional officers perform an essential public service that puts in great danger, and strives for a safer California. The flip side is that the more people are in prison, the more secure the jobs are for the prison guards. I’m not being a cynic. This is the source of behind the scenes money pushing the effort to enact many tougher laws in California. Is it really better for California? The guards don’t care. And yes, the tail wags the dog.

The only solution to out-of-control unions is to create legislation that curbs the ability of politicians to receive contributions from people upon whose salaries they vote. This problem will end when politicians are not able to vote in conflict of interest. For example: If you want to build a freeway off-ramp somewhere and pay your politician to vote public funds to do that so that your company gets the contract, that is a felony. It’s a bribe. It’s wrong. The same standard needs to be applied to politicians who vote on employee pay and benefits. The solution is not complicated.

6 thoughts on “Exploring Public Safety Pensions (Part 3)

  1. NO it's not, but pay to play is alive and well in ALL of the legislatures around the country, however it does seem to be more prevalent in those with Dems in the majority… It's always about votes, and unions deliver votes!

  2. The unions seem to be a bit disenchanted with Obama and his cronies at the moment since they've backstabbed the unions. Or so says the union leadership from the Teamsters, UAW and AFL-CIO. And I wonder how that will play for the upcoming Hillary Clinton (current pretender to the throne) run for office?

    Pay to play is alive and well, but in the case of run-away public employee unions, it could become manageable very quickly. And it would solve the problem without attacking employees — who are not the real problem.

  3. Public employees should not be able to unionize. Another simple solution. We didn't have the problem in California until Jerry Brown promoted and passed legislation allowing such in the 80's. Now the same unions have taken over state government, to the great detriment of everyone else. Thanks, Jerry!

  4. Bad management practices over a long period of time builds very strong unions.

    Many police officers who I know would agree with you that there should be no police unions. Unfortunately that ship has sailed.

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