Bad bureaucrats: Pension logrolling, hidden funds, expenses fiddling

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A few news items of interest, while you wait for me to publish some sort of analysis of last Tuesday's results:

Reuters: Special Report: How a vicious circle of self-interest sank a California city -- long, but a must-read:

Yet on close examination, the city's decades-long journey from prosperous, middle-class community to bankrupt, crime-ridden, foreclosure-blighted basket case is straightforward -- and alarmingly similar to the path traveled by many municipalities around America's largest state. San Bernardino succumbed to a vicious circle of self-interests among city workers, local politicians and state pension overseers.

Little by little, over many years, the salaries and retirement benefits of San Bernardino's city workers -- and especially its police and firemen -- grew richer and richer, even as the city lost its major employers and gradually got poorer and poorer.

Unions poured money into city council elections, and the city council poured money into union pay and pensions. The California Public Employees' Retirement System (Calpers), which manages pension plans for San Bernardino and many other cities, encouraged ever-sweeter benefits. Investment bankers sold clever bond deals to pay for them. Meanwhile, state law made it impossible to raise local property taxes and difficult to boost any other kind....

Almost 75 percent of the city's general fund is now spent solely on the police and fire departments, according to a Reuters analysis of city bankruptcy documents - most of that on wages and pension costs.

California Gov. Jerry Brown is bringing in a retired Marine Corps major general to take over the state parks department, filling a vacancy left by financial scandal.

Jackson replaces Ruth Coleman, an economist and lobbyist who led the parks department for a decade. She resigned in July amid revelations that the department had hidden $54 million in two special funds, even as it was planning to close 70 state parks to achieve state budget cuts.

Numerous other staff members at parks headquarters were fired or reassigned in the wake of the discovery. About two-thirds of the hidden money remains in limbo and two investigations are ongoing....

Many state parks operate with help from small nonprofit groups. Amid the state budget crisis, many of these groups took on fundraising campaigns to avoid park closures, and some signed contracts to operate parks themselves.

The discovery of hidden funds came as a betrayal.

I've heard stories and perhaps you have, too, that this sort of thing happens routinely in government: Tuck some money away to spend on little luxuries and non-essentials that would never get legislative approval, then go crying to the public that you'll have to cut essential public services unless they give your department more money. I don't have my collection of Jim Boren's books on bureaucracy handy, but I wouldn't be surprised if he gave a name to this phenomenon.

And a general has lost a star for using government resources for personal pleasure:

A report by the Defense Department inspector general found that Ward used military vehicles to shuttle his wife on shopping trips and to a spa and billed the government for a refueling stop overnight in Bermuda, where the couple stayed in a $750 suite. The report detailed lengthy stays at lavish hotels for Ward, his wife and his staff members, and the use of five-vehicle motorcades when he traveled to Washington.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on November 14, 2012 11:37 PM.

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