As Bloomberg News has reported, some California city managers earn more than the governor. Prison guards who take an annual physical exam collect a monthly fitness bonus of $130 -- even if they don't pass. Pay for firefighters in Los Angeles is twice the national average. One state prison nurse was paid $269,810, tripling her base pay with overtime.
California state workers' pay can be boosted for nearly 400 reasons, from holding a commercial driver's license to making a presentation to the governor. All told, state workers collected $1.7 billion of overtime, unused vacation time or other extra pay last year. That's equal to 65 percent of the state's annual commitment to the strained University of California system.
Nearly all of Jerry Brown's proposed reforms point in the right direction; they just don't go far enough (particularly because they focus primarily on new hires, not the workers currently driving the state's decline). That's why an economics lecturer at UC-Santa Barbara is trying to qualify a ballot initiative that would end public-sector collective bargaining statewide. Given the extent of union power in the state, the proposal isn't likely to go anywhere. Its core premise, however, is correct: in order for the Golden State to regain some of its lost luster, the unions' status quo will have to be dramatically upended.