Wisconsin & California Public Finance

Steve Malanga:

Californians should understand those fiscal pressures. Average annual pay for a local government employee in the state rose by 60%, to $61,185 (excluding benefits), between 1999 and 2008, according to the Little Hoover Commission on California State Government Organization and Economy. That’s about 70% more than the increase in private sector wages in the state over the same period. Average pay for cops and firefighters climbed 69%, to $89,056, again excluding benefits, in the same period.
Benefit costs have soared even more than wages. The annual cost of funding pensions in California’s 20 largest municipalities has grown from $1.3 billion in 1999 to $5.1 billion last year, according to a study by Stanford University professor Joe Nation. That’s an annual growth rate of better than 11%.
Faced with such increases, municipalities in California haven’t had nearly the flexibility to mend their budgets that officials in Wisconsin have.
In San Jose, where the average cost of employing a city worker, including benefits, has soared to an extraordinary $142,000 annually, Mayor Chuck Reed had to fight long and hard for a ballot measure to reduce pension costs that was passed by voters in June. In the three years before the vote, the city had to lay off about 2,000 employees and cut back on parks, libraries and other services.