Public Sector Continues to Expand in California, Elsewhere Despite Recession

While the private sector continues to suffer during the recession, the public sector has not had to share in the pain, especially in California. As an Orange County Register editorial last week noted,

The private sector is slashing jobs, and taxes are going up, thanks to the recently enacted state budget plan. But the government isn’t tightening its belt. In fact, a Sacramento Bee analysis of the state government found that its “full-time workforce continues to grow despite Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s order to freeze hiring amid a historic budget shortfall.”

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At the local level, cities are still pushing for expanded pay and benefits for their workers. USA Today reported last year that “State and local government workers are enjoying major gains in compensation, pushing the value of their average wages and benefits far ahead of private workers.” It’s a nationwide trend, although no other state has the fiscal mess faced in California.

According to the aforementioned Sacramento Bee analysis,

From June 2008 to February 2009, most state agencies either increased or kept the same number of full-time employees, according to a Bee analysis of personnel data. The state also failed to lay off as many part-time employees during the crisis as promised by the governor.

While legislators and Schwarzenegger debated how to close a $40 billion budget deficit, 66 state agencies saw a net gain of full-time employees, 35 kept the same number of employees and 55 lost employees, data from the state controller’s office show.

The overall number of full-time state employees increased by roughly 2,000, or 1 percent, excluding the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, which always shrinks sharply outside of fire season, the figures show.

Even during these difficult economic times, they are having trouble containing the growth of government on the other side of the pond as well. A (U.K.) Sunday Times article from earlier this month observed: “Millions of private-sector workers face a pay freeze or cuts because of the economic crisis, while employees in the public sector are enjoying pay rises.” Said David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, “It is unacceptable that the public sector should not share any of this pain. There is already an apartheid between the public and private sectors on pensions. We cannot have apartheid on pay too.” In a similar vein, Mark Wallace, campaign director of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, lamented the disconnection between government growth and economic realities:

The government has locked taxpayers into three years of pay rises for millions of public-sector workers while millions of workers in the private sector are facing a pay freeze, cut or even redundancy. This is not only unfair; it is irresponsible and economically unsustainable.

This does not bode well for taxpayers and the containment of government growth for, as the O.C. Register editorial posits, “If the rolls of government workers can’t be cut during these times, then there’s little hope of ever controlling the growth of government.”