Unfunded Pensions - With the recent flood of newspaper articles and editorials on the state's unfunded public employee pension crisis, CoCoTax members are validated in our years-long campaign to bring attention to the issue. Along with several county grand juries, we have reported the looming shortfall, and urged changes to correct the problem - mostly to no avail. Even fiscally responsible local officials have often told us, "we have little control; it's a problem only the legislature can fix." Nevertheless, our newly formed CoCoTax Pension Task Force has identified a number of measures that local jurisdictions may be able to employ effectively. We'll begin rolling out those solutions shortly. Admittedly, these actions will represent "nibbling at the edges," but are worth serious consideration. More municipal bankruptcies, cuts in public services and even reductions in pensions are the likely future, unless elected officials and union leaders see the light and take action. (Unfortunately, the "other shoe" of public fiscal bad news is just around the corner, when agencies will soon be required to report their unfunded employee health care debt, likely to rival pension debt in magnitude.)
Potholes - While the pension issue belatedly now commands public attention, the flip side of the problem is seen (and felt) in the terrible condition of our roads, bridges and other components of our transportation infrastructure. Potholes on major highways now cause serious accidents, and commuters suffer hours of daily congestion delay. In order to divert funds for employee compensation and now to pay increased pension costs, Sacramento and virtually every public agency responsible for our roads have repeatedly deferred necessary maintenance. AAA now estimates California drivers suffer $700 a year in vehicle damage attributable to poor roads. This cost is in addition to the newly passed gas tax and increased vehicle registration fees. Yet, we are skeptical that the new funding will actually be used to improve our roads, but rather to a) fund the governor's legacy High Speed Rail fiasco, and b) pay for pensions.
Speed Bumps - We've all encountered the frustration of bumping our way over the asphalt obstacles deliberately placed in parking lots, ostensibly to force drivers to reduce their speed. The presumption is that some will otherwise drive too fast, endangering pedestrians. But, in reality, it only causes the scofflaws to drive faster between the bumps, negating the intended safety outcome. To my philosophical mind, speed bumps represent a negative shift in our culture, where the freedom of all is burdened by a perceived need to protect us from those who will not be held accountable for their actions. If grownups are shielded from the consequences of their bad acts, how are youngsters to learn the life lessons necessary for good citizenship? Honesty and personal accountability - two critical elements of a traditionally virtuous American society - are undermined by participation trophies, plea deals, politicians who lie with impunity, and, yes - those darned speed bumps.
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