If you tune in to tonight’s first Republican gubernatorial debate between Meg “Megabucks” Whitman and Steve “We-don’t-bother-coming-up-with-nicknames-for-candidates-who-poll-under-20 percent” Poizner, you can bet you’ll be treated to overheated, misleading and flat-out false rhetoric about state government, unions, taxes, regulations and a host of other red-meat topics for the GOP conservative base.
In recent days, Whitman has ratcheted up her attacks on public employee unions as she continues to try to justify her outrageous proposal to cut 40,000 state jobs. Not to be outdone, Poizner says he wants to cut state government by 10 percent, resulting in tens of thousands of lost jobs. Never mind that the Governor’s budget cuts have already led to a perpetual recession for California and cutting more state jobs is likely to further damage our state’s fragile economy, these new cuts being proposed would be calamitous for the state and further erode our quality of life.
The economic damage aside, is there any truth to Whitman’s and Poizner’s claims that state government has become bloated?
Not according to the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy, an independent research group based in Palo Alto.
California Watch reporter Robert Salladay talked to Stephen Levy, the Center’s director and one of the foremost experts on the California economy:
“There is broad agreement that seeking efficiencies in government programs is good public policy. Yet, the data suggest that at the aggregate level California is not overstaffed relative to caseloads in the major program areas. Indeed, a stronger case can be made that public programs are being carried out with less staffing than in most other states.”
In his report from last December, Levy's organization found that California – which has 38 million residents – had the third lowest number of full-time state government employees relative to the population.
California and Florida both had 103 state employees for every 10,000 residents, while Illinois had the lowest ratio at 97, the group reported. The U.S. average was 143 state employees per 10,000 residents, with California 28 percent below the national average.
Salladay notes that even when adding in local government employees, California still has a small workforce compared to other states.
So what’s behind Whitman and Poizner’s wayward proposals? They want to further privatize and de-regulate California to the benefit of large corporations. That’s right, the same corporations that led to an economic implosion not seen since the Great Depression. And they certainly want to muzzle the voice of working people, which is why they’ve intensified their attacks on public employee unions.
While reducing the size of government has long been a goal of conservative Republicans, the consequences of the current proposals from Whitman and Poizner would be absolutely disastrous for California’s future. The deep cuts to education, public safety, state parks, the safety net and other programs we’ve seen under Arnold are nothing compared to what these two have in store.
So if you watch tonight’s debate, take the rhetoric with a grain of salt. On second thought, you might need the whole vat.