Tuesday, May 04, 2010

IBD: Government Greed

Government Greed

We have seen the future and it works — for certain people. Take San Francisco municipal workers. The San Francisco Chronicle recently detailed just how overpaid the city's employees are. Their average yearly salary is $93,000 before benefits. A third of them made more than $100,000 in 2009. A newly retired deputy police chief (not even the city's top cop) made $516,118.

Now San Francisco is not the inevitable future of America. It does, however, represent one possible path. It's a promised land of liberalism, both social and fiscal. The city's tolerance of eccentric and, to some, offensive behavior is famous and longstanding.

Less celebrated in song and story, but just as significant, is its role as a theater for liberal interest-group politics. When it comes to enriching the denizens of the public sector, San Francisco shows the way.

The city's unions, which are powerful even by California standards, have produced a public-workers' paradise financed by high taxes on tourists, businesses (San Francisco even has a 1.5% tax on payrolls) and regular folk who choose to live there or who haven't figured out a way to leave. The city has poor and homeless people just like any other.

It's hard to see how an aggressive and expensive local government has helped those at the bottom much. It's much easier to see what the tax-and-spend machine has done for people such as former Deputy Chief Charles Keohane, who earned more than $500,000 in his last year from salary enhanced by banked vacation time, comp time and sick days.

Also in 2009, 28 city employees made more than the mayor, Gavin Newsom, who pulled down a respectable $250,903. Firefighters in San Francisco have a base salary of $102,648, while even lowly payroll clerks start at $54,314.

Liberals have railed since time immemorial about "corporate greed." If you grant for the sake of argument that something as impersonal as a corporation can feel the very human urge to acquire inordinate wealth, there is surely such a thing as "government greed."

To put it another way, government can work to enrich its own just as a private company does. The difference is that government is not supposed to be just another money-hungry interest group. It's supposed to be working directly for the public good.


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