As California wends it’s sorry way toward financial oblivion, several heretofore unreported situations have arisen that makes one wonder just how far the malignancy of corruption has spread through the numerous bureaucracies involved in governing a state that would make a fair sized country and in fact has the ninth largest economy in the world (down from 8th in 2010). I’ve always said that California, with 10% of the US population, was a perfect microcosm of the the country as a whole and that as California goes, so goes the nation. This is obviously as true of corruption in it’s politics as anything else.
A few years ago we were reporting on the Retirement system (CALPERS) or California Public Employees Retirement System) and the manner in which some mid level managers in the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, now called CalFire had been hard at work ferreting out ways to retire at a relatively young age with a pension that amounted to 100% of their working salaries and the unconfirmed rumors that a few had even found ways to get even more than 100%. I’ve been told that some of those old mid/upper level management boys managed to retire with up to $100k a year (this not verified by any official source but if anybody at that level ever MADE $100k and/or if their retirement pay even approaches that figure remotely at a time when the average Californian is struggling through the worst recession since the 1930s, it is unconscionable at the least and somebody needs to be doing something about it.)
We also reported on the loopholes that allowed those that had retired prior to the discovery of the 100% retirement stipend and therefore had to settle for some percentage up to 90% to return to work for a year and be absorbed into the new system thereby getting their increase, a situation that was witnessed personally right here in my own little county. We also talked about numerous other actions on the part of management and the union that allowed hundreds of employees in all ranks to pad their salaries and comp packs and just generally make themselves a lot more comfortable at taxpayer expense than you would expect them to be, given the nature of the job.
Now it looks like the State Department of Beaches & Parks has been doing a little nasty of it’s own for a while now, even as talks have been ongoing in regard to selling or privatizing a huge number of California’s parks, beaches and other scenic areas to the Yacht Party bloc.
The first thing that you have to realize is that here in CA the distinction between Democrats and Republicans is even more fuzzy and blurred than it is on a national level. When I take a look at some of the legislative actions that have had me scratching for answers even more than usual lately, I don’t even look at party affiliations anymore. My only question in regard to about 90% of the politicians in my state… a group that is supposedly decidedly left of center by most accounts… is in regard to who they’re owned by, something that is just now beginning to take hold on a national level. Around here, a rich or wannabe rich Democrat will sell you out every bit as quickly as a rich or wannabe rich Republican and I guess in that regard you could say we’re one of the only states in which it’s been proven that bipartisanship can work… at least when it comes to scamming the serfs. Anyway, from the California Budget Fact Check site, we have the following:
California taxpayers have been deeply troubled by the recent scandals that have rocked the Department of Parks and Recreation. The allegations of inappropriate vacation buyouts awarded to 56 staff members and hoarding $54 million in special funds at a time when 70 parks were slated for closure have undermined the public’s confidence in their state government.
Among the findings of this week’s “California Budget Fact Check” are:
· The Parks Department vacation buyout scandal has taxpayers, lawmakers and the news media asking whether there is inappropriate spending going on in other state agencies and departments.
· The revelation that the Parks Department had hoarded $54 million in special funds has Californians asking whether there is hoarding in other state departments and whether painful budget cuts could have been avoided with money that had been stashed away and whether the state really needs more taxes.
· Assembly Republicans have called for the nonpartisan State Auditor to look into how departments are spending special fund dollars. This week, the audit request was approved on a bipartisan vote of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee.
Now if this kind of thing is going on in two state agencies, there’s absolutely no reason to assume they aren’t going on in others. It’s all part of a quantum paradigm shift in state governance that began in the 70s with the advent of organizations like the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and that has seen steadily moving to the right ever since. As our state regulatory and oversight agencies have become more and more peopled by those interested not so much in public service in what they personally can gain from such service, we’ve seen the state move from being one of the most liberal enclaves in the country to a decidedly right of center position that moves even farther right every time a new piece of legislation is introduced or enacted.
A government in which greed on the part of its employees is the guiding factor in the governance of the state does not serve the majority of the people well, but instead merely aids and abets the upward transfer of wealth and this is basically what’s happening in California today.
A recent investigation by the Sacramento Bee uncovered that former staff members at the Department of Parks and Recreation were allowed to participate in a controversial vacation buyout program. By all accounts, they received vacation buyout payments that were not authorized by department policy or current state law.1
Under this scheme, 56 staff members in the Sacramento headquarters were able to cash out vacation time that they had accrued, at a cost of $271,000 to taxpayers between May and July 2011.2 These actions were not authorized by the Administration.
That’s another thing I would suggest that the Bee look into my old agency in regard to. When I left almost 20 years ago, the vacation system was already being abused mercilessly by those smart enough to find the loopholes by which it could be. We were only required to work a total of 13 days a month even back then and our vacation practices were such that if you manipulated things just right and added in the regular and personal holidays, you could have yourself about a two and a half month paid vacation every year. I have no reason to doubt right now that unless CalFire and B&P have totally different systems for granting vacations and leaves, that some bright bulb at CalFire HQ hasn’t come up with this one too.
As State Parks Are Slated for Closure, Department Stockpiles $54 Million
Taxpayers recently learned that the buyout scandal wasn’t the only example of malfeasance going on at the State Parks Department. State officials recently uncovered that the Parks Department had “hoarded” $54 million in special funds for a dozen years.3
Most insulting to taxpayers is the fact that this occurred at the same time the Department was telling the Legislature that it needed to close 70 state parks across California as part of its efforts to manage its budget shortfall
In many communities, donors and non-profit organizations had stepped up to the plate to enter into public-private partnerships to save the parks. The allegations of stashed money have upset groups that worked selflessly with state and local officials to try and save these parks only to uncover that the budget situation wasn’t as they were told. In Sonoma County, a planned quarter-cent sales tax measure was shelved in light of the hoarding allegations.4
Ultimately, the Parks Director resigned and other high-ranking parks officials were fired in the wake of these scandals.
My own opinion is that the money was hidden away solely to provoke a “crisis” that would allow private corporations to either buy the “choicest of California’s state parks and beaches for profit or to win concessionaire status over them, which amounts to the same thing… like Disneyland, they’ll wind up being priced out of the range of the average working stiff.
Some of us have become pretty certain over the years that if we would actively root out the unethical and possibly illegal practices going on in state government today and simply went back to the basic honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work way of doing things we could fix a huge part of what’s wrong with California. But as long as we keep on electing the same junkies and pimps and whores we’ll keep right on getting the best government the corporations and big banks can buy in which case I’d rather not hear any sniveling once you finally fall over the fact that you’ve been reamed thoroughly. I’ve been telling you so for years now.