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Wednesday, December 12 , 2018, 6:05 pm | Fog/Mist 58º


Randy Alcorn: With Pensions and Government Salaries, Don’t Let Rotten Apples Spoil the Barrel

​Most of us understand that commercial enterprises operate for profits that, with few exceptions, enrich their owners and key managers. So, when these enterprises engage in questionable if not outright unethical behavior in their quest for profit we may be disappointed, even infuriated, but rarely surprised.

We may be more disillusioned and angry when organizations in the nonprofit sector behave more like commercial enterprises and focus more on enriching themselves than on serving their particular client communities.

Organizations — whether for-profit or not-for-profit — are only as ethical as the people who run them. We would like to believe that most people are basically moral, compassionate and just, and that a minority of really rotten folks in key positions cause all the problems. But, the temptation for personal gain is virulent and greed can be contagious. Sometimes when good folks find themselves in key positions, they succumb to that temptation.

We all live in an economic jungle in which the only real shelter is sufficient wealth. Without enough money not only are the essentials of life not guaranteed but neither are equal justice, quality health care and good education. It is not surprising then that personal ethics can be compromised for personal financial gain. Most everyone wants not only to survive the jungle, but also to thrive in it.

Most of us are aware of the damage caused to society by the episodes of callous, predatory, greed of big business. We are outraged by the corruption and pederasty in some religious institutions, and by the frauds and embezzlements in some big charities. But, when unethical people infest government, the deleterious effects on society can be particularly insidious.

You can choose not to do business with an unethical bank, or stop contributing to a fraudulent charity or leave a corrupt church, but it is pretty hard to avoid government. Government has the police power to impose its will — whether good or evil — on everyone.

Too often, greedy people perfidiously use government as a vehicle to enrich themselves at the expense of the public. The parade of elected officials convicted of corruption is ongoing, but what is more pervasive is the routine practice of elected officials and government employees to over-compensate themselves. This practice has resulted in governments across the nation incurring enormously burdensome debts. Several large cities, unable to continue funding lavish public employee pensions, have gone bankrupt, while more and more jurisdictions teeter on the edge of insolvency for the same reason.

When government treasuries are siphoned off to feed the personal greed of the people in government, the vital and necessary functions of government go underfunded. That is how we end up with deteriorating public infrastructures, closed parks, understaffed public safety departments — and ever more fees and taxes.

Even when taxes and fees have been approved for a specific public purpose, greedy governments have redirected those revenues to fund debts incurred compensating their employees. For example, about half of California’s $440 billion state debt is its public pension liability, and the state has been diverting truck weight fees, intended for road maintenance, to help cover the massive debt.

Now that California’s highways are crumbling away, the state wants to impose a $52 annual fee on California drivers to fund road maintenance. Why not reduce government pensions and pay before pillaging the public once again?

At the local levels, gorging governments try to cover shortfalls in funding their pensions and fat paychecks by steadily increasing fees and imposing new ones. Gotten a traffic or parking ticket lately? So many things now require citizens to purchase a permit from some government agency. These permits and fees are more about revenue generation than they are about needed regulation.

Because politicians have shown no compunction to rein in their own greed and that of public employees, citizens should initiate and pass a ballot measure that requires a majority of any jurisdiction’s voters approve any compensation increases for elected officials and public employees.

Unless you own a huge portion of a company’s stock, you can’t force out the rotten folks in that company, but as a voter you have the opportunity at each election to pluck the rotten apples out of the government barrel.

Santa Barbara County voters can start by plucking out those county supervisors who recently voted themselves and their department heads big raises. And, city voters should remove any council members who are complicit with public employee unions and their spiraling compensation packages.

Let’s get the roads and bridges repaired before we allow these gluttons to take another penny in pay.

— Randy Alcorn is a Santa Barbara political observer. Contact him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address), or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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