This bit of inanity came across my Facebook feed the other day, in the form of a stick-art meme poster (caps in the original):
BEING A LIBERTARIAN IS LIKE BEING THE ONLY SOBER PERSON IN THE CAR
AND NO ONE WILL LET YOU DRIVE!
The lady who posted this bit of shrill nonsense always seemed levelheaded and sensible enough in person, so it’s a bit disappointing to see the sort of kooky right-wing chain letter bullshit that she posts online. Apparently she is not one to dodge the daft. A lot of this crap originates from the police lobby, e.g., complaints that the national media are not covering toy drives by the Ventura County Sheriff’s Department because they’re too fixated on Ferguson (uhh, maybe because municipal, county, and some state police were in a state of open riot against the citizens in Ferguson over the summer?).
The kicker is that this woman is a California Highway Patrolman’s wife. In terms of staffing levels and pay grades, the California Highway Patrol is absolutely not a libertarian agency. It is big government. It uses a staff of over 11,000 largely to duplicate the roadside assistance services of CalTrans and the police services of county sheriffs’ departments. And it pays its staff well, even by California public employer standards. I checked the public employee database at Transparent California, and my friend’s husband is consistently clearing over $90k in annual base pay plus several thousand in overtime. Meanwhile, there’s this total spazz case I knew in college (specifically, I talked to him exactly once, for less than five minutes, but I never forgot him, and I later learned from a mutual roommate that he was even spazzier than I had imagined) who is making less than $60k as a state staff attorney in San Francisco. I assume he’s working more or less full time, since it’s unusual for someone in his position, especially a man, to work half or three quarters time for three years in a row. This fellow is earning roughly what my buddy in DC makes as a code monkey. Code monkeys, of course, are at the bottom of the totem pole for prestige and responsibility, which is why they’re customarily stashed in the basement.
This isn’t to say that the CHP is a rotten piece of shit organization or that I want to lower the boom on it or that I begrudge its officers and their dependents their generous pay. In my experience, its officers are more courteous and better disciplined than most. I certainly find it a vast improvement over the Brezhnevian architecture and customer service at the California Department of Motor Feehicles. It is, however, to say that there is a huge amount of fat that could be trimmed from the CHP without endangering public safety. Out of a budget of three billion or so dollars a year, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it could sustain a cut of over a billion without harming recruitment, retention, or work conditions. As things stand, it’s an overstaffed agency with overpaid and underworked officers. This is a better state of affairs than the SDPD’s standard of understaffing patrol to the point of thirty service calls a night and keeping its junior officers at piss-poor pay grades, and again, I’m not at all steamed about the waste, but the CHP is obviously a wasteful organization.
Yet there’s no significant political constituency in California saying, hey, let’s spend less of the public treasury on this horseshit. The state’s leftists don’t want to set too strong a precedent for taking on public employees, and the rightists are either too authoritarian or too craven to take on an agency that looks like a bulwark of law and order. So it goes.
And of course Highway Patrol employees themselves are hesitant to argue that they’re too numerous and well-paid. They aren’t the sort of fools who take sledgehammers to their own rice bowls. My friend’s husband recently posted a photo of their new motorboat on Facebook. I’m disinclined to gripe about the high rate of Hagler-American motorboat ownership, but the boat is some indication that these folks aren’t hurting. Meanwhile, it’s damn near impossible that I’d qualify for an apartment lease without a cosigner. And yet I’m a net contributor to the California state treasury, while they’re almost certainly net beneficiaries, probably in amounts of tens of thousands of dollars per year.
The California Highway Patrol must pay for many motorboats. It would be a shame if something were to happen to all the payroll money needed to make the boat payments. I don’t mean this in the classic Sicilian sense, although there certainly are Californians who would mean it that way. No, I mean it in a much more practical sense. If CHP base salaries plateaued at, say, $55k instead of $90k, they’d offer a lot less boat money, vacation money, college fund money, big-ass crew cab pickup truck money. Entry-level pay could be jacked up to $55k as well, eliminating longevity bonuses for nonranking officers on the basis that the agency is swarming with lifers who are really in it for the pension and the job gets easier after the first couple of years (by which point the soldier-of-the-law initiation rituals have ended and, let’s face it, you’re basically either driving around or chilling out in median strips all day), and the CHP would still save on payroll because it wouldn’t be lavishing Wow Much Moneys on the lifers, but the twenty-and-outs would be none too happy about this. Less boat money.
Less boat money yet in the event of layoffs.
I’m not angling for some fiscal magic whereby my tax burden (lodging tax is a form of tax) will decrease to the point that I can afford to buy a nice kayak. Realistically, the savings will go towards very incompletely plugging the gaping hole that is the California treasury. But there will be no savings. Nobody that I’m aware of is hauling the CHP commissioner before the Assembly and asking him, now why the fuck are we spending all this money on your agency instead of using it for something useful, like a desalination plant. Congressmen who are fucked up on God and their dealers alone know what kinds of drugs at least pretend to give a shit about the readiness and discipline of the Secret Service, since it gives them an opportunity to berate people like Julia Pearson for being as useless as tits on a boar, but no one in California state government has the courage, or maybe the sense, to ask the CHP commissioner to explain how the hell more than half of his agency’s budget is conceivably essential to the state’s public safety. Sure, it’s a nice day for a drive, but that means that there should be fewer accidents, so why the hell can’t two thirds of the day watch park its cruisers and go home, with the option to use its day off and its own money and vehicles to take that drive in the country, if the spirit so moves these soldiers of the law? As Californians, we’re paying people several hundred dollars a day apiece to drive back and forth on arrow-straight roads in clear, calm weather, on top of the gas, maintenance, and lease bills on their state vehicles. If fiscal responsibility is worth a handful of rabbit shit as a political principle, we should be inquiring about the possibility of the state treasury sponsoring less of this profligacy.
The trouble goes a lot further into California’s public sector than the Highway Patrol. The Chippie lobby is just one prominent lobby with its hands out for state money. The most notorious alms-beggars are the prison unions, the K-12 public schools, and higher education. The schools, especially the universities, offer courses that make normal people wonder what in the fuckity fucking fuck kind of bullshit is that and why the fuck are we paying for it. The prisons, for their part, have had guards force inmates into fatal gladiatorial fights and have been placed under federal oversight for overcrowding and inadequate medical care. No one at the universities is forced to undertake master’s-level work in Whackensplooge Studies, so score one for education. Even so, education and the prisons are accorded a certain moral equivalency: each has its lobby, and each lobby distinguishes itself by asking for and duly receiving whopping amounts of money from the state treasury.
No one in this whole constellation of bureaucracies is willing to make the first move towards fiscal austerity. It’s easy to understand why: people in every corner of the system have a hand out, including the high-hat deficit hawks. When calls for reform are being led by disingenuous types in elected office and upper-level bureaucratic administration who are obviously out to get theirs, it’s no wonder that fiscal reform efforts fall flat. This seems to be an especially serious problem in California, the result of a large and vigorous state government, an avowed egalitarian streak in the engaged parts of the electorate, and elites that flaunt the hell out of their enormous wealth. The natural restraint and modesty of states like Oregon and Vermont are absent, and the aristocratic social controls that dominate the South are worse than useless. To Californians’ credit, divine right-tinged riches-for-me-but-not-for-thee stunts backfire on the asshats attempting them. We’re too savvy and self-respecting a people to fall for that sort of contemptuous sadism in the name of morality. At the state level, our politicians get nowhere by insinuating that the wealthy are divinely ordered to be wealthy and that the rest of us have a duty to gratefully and quietly sup on our mess of pottage.
The cost of this honesty is a literal cost, one that may run into the tens of billions of dollars annually. Where officials in other states might say, “good grief, we’re paying you awfully well already,” or, “fuck you, you uppity little peasant bitch, you best not come around here no more, y’hear,” California officials earnestly, desperately try to work out some kind of accommodation that won’t anger the petitioner and also won’t bankrupt the state. The accommodations often achieve neither of these goals, but the efforts of California’s elected officials to offer such accommodations goes to show that we have, in this respect at least, a better state government than we deserve. There’s a certain good intention, responsiveness, accountability, and, yes, even competence to these officials. If Sam Brownback had pulled his economic policy “reform” stunt in California, he’d have gone the way of Gray Davis by now. There is no meek faction in the electorate that is content to resign itself to a life of poverty and subservience for the further betterment of its social betters.
Conveniently, prisoners and illegal immigrants are not part of California’s electorate. There is a certain hidden logic to this arrangement, a cohort of dead souls for political accounting purposes and a cohort of roustabouts to do the actual work needed to run the state. That said, not awfully many California voters are morally at ease with the ongoing subjugation of these underclasses, especially in the latter case. Even prisoners are again coming to be seen as legitimate civic stakeholders, as shown by the growing pushback against draconian criminal punishments in statewide ballot initiatives.
This means that California is closer than most states to having no last reserve of untouchables who can be exploited at will. Whether its voters really want to lift the local underclasses into a life of middle-class equity or wish to believe that they would like to put an end to the injustice is up for debate, but as I mentioned, overt appeals to inequality as the proper natural and moral order are doomed at the state level. That dog just plain don’t hunt. The most prejudiced and exploitative Farm Bureau shithead in the state won’t go on the record to forthrightly say, as Tom Lehrer did, that no one but a Mexican would stoop so low. Even the disingenuous fuckwad calls for “immigration reform” by big ag are always couched in terms of opportunity for enterprising immigrants and so on, ad nauseam. Hell, the very premise of legalizing these people, who are retained by their employers on account of a meekness that is clearly intensified by their illegal immigration status, appeals to the hope of their being allowed to leave the shadow world of backbreaking stoop labor without legal rights and become first-class American citizens in due course.
More mouths at the table, and fewer hands in the kitchen: it’s the California way. But it’s no mystery. The featherbedding in the civil service is egregious. The featherbedding in the administrations of the UC, CSU, and community college systems is even worse. I can’t think offhand of any stories of private consultants worming their way into the operations of California state government, but I’m sure they exist, and I’m sure they’re appalling. This shit goes a lot deeper than the city of Bell and its spherical mayor turned surfing museum parking lot attendant, Robert Rizzo. Now that’s a well-rounded American who couldn’t hang ten if his life depended on it, although you have to figure that he’d float.
Look, I’m just trying to rationalize why my OC lifeguard friends will never have to retrieve a catch of the day like him from under the pier. Everybody in that state but the prisoners, the illegals, and the truly down-and-out homeless is running some kind of racket, or at least trying. As some low-class neighbors told my ancestors in Ulster when they visited at dinnertime, “If you’d a spoon, you too’d be suppin.'” They must hand out soup ladles big enough to feed a Clydesdale at the Highway Patrol academy.
Throw some fish tacos into the pot, brah, and maybe some of that food stamp lobster. Or take that new boat out and see what kind of dinner you can catch for us. My tax dollars are going towards it, after all. Just keep Serling away from the menu, for the love of man.
We have 38 million over for dinner, and Jesus isn’t available to do the fish trick tonight. Sometimes, a state isn’t Christian because it just doesn’t have the budget.