Be-LABORing The Point: Taxpayers Can’t Get No Respect

ALPERN AT LARGE - If our city, county, state and nation want to have a first-rate, 21st Century transportation/infrastructure network, and the enhanced economy that comes with it, then sooner or later the taxpayers and private sector will need to provide more revenues.

Yet from the LADWP to the LA Department of Public Works to our transportation agencies, the public sector needs to be brought to bear and work as a partner (if not "civil servants") to the taxpayers, and not treat taxpayers like lower life forms that can be milked like animals. 

The taxpaying private sector is not some mindless proletariat that should be dismissed or disrespected, but the economic and political lifeblood of our nation and our society.  The private sector works hard, often at 2-3 jobs and/or over 50 hours a week, and is still squeezed by rising housing and food prices--our economic recovery is almost one that exists in name only, and exists only because so many are forced into part-time or lower-paying jobs that leaves up to 25% or more of our workforce underemployed. 

So when the LADWP, enabled by the City Council (in particular, City Council President Herb Wesson, who is really beginning to scare a lot of us with the power he chooses to wield), tries to ram through a contract and deal that is nebulous and nontransparent, and filled with promises to save ratepayers money, the ability to pursue more environmental- and energy-related tax/bond endeavors is threatened, no matter how worthy and overdue these endeavors are. 

This Friday's special meeting of the City Council, a joint Energy and Environment Committee and Budget and Finance Committee meeting, is being held at 10 am.  Guess who will flood the chambers while the rest of us working stiffs are busy at work supporting our families?  Will there be adequate time for those "other" city entities, the Neighborhood Councils, to analyze the deal between the IBEW and LADWP and the City, to consider whether that new deal is appropriate and cost-effective?


Homeowners and property owners, and the renters who pay their mortgages, are seeing their energy and utility bills skyrocket at a time when discretionary spending remains tight--and this phenomenon played a major role in electing Eric Garcetti as Mayor over Wendy Greuel. 


It is no secret that the LADWP overpays its workers' salaries, pensions and benefits compared to other City employees, and it is up to our new Mayor (who, to his credit, clearly favors amicable compromise over rancorous combat) to stand up for all taxpaying and ratepaying Angelenos.


Moving from the LADWP to the Department of Public Works, the columns of Steve Lopez have shed a lot of light on the need to fix our streets, curbs and sidewalks in a manner that restores a reasonable quality of life and modicum of public safety. 


It is entirely unreasonable to have Angelenos pay twice for their curbs and sidewalks and streets, but that it what has happened and might be inevitable.  Too much of past tax and other revenues have gone to unsustainable pensions and inappropriate spending, and if we want to have our needed sidewalks and curbs fixed, we will have to pay more, as Lopez notes.


And this is supposed to warm our hearts to a City bond proposal for our streets and infrastructure to be repaired?


Finally, with the $2.2 billion in federal transit grants to California held up by the Department of Labor because of transit unions' unwillingness to embrace pension reform, and as evidenced by the recent threat of BART unions in San Francisco to leave their commuting patrons in the lurch, the need to confront these public sector unions is now also spotlighted.


The usual canards will be thrown around, of course--these labor unions represent "working people" and "middle class jobs".


...and which leaves those "working people" and "middle class jobs" in the private sector as...what now?


Things were getting tough before the economic downturn in 2008, but the inequities between many (not all, mind you) in the public and private sectors still persist, together with an attitude that civil servants expect taxpayers to work for them...and not the other way around.


Increasingly, Democratic and other pro-labor, pro-transit and pro-infrastructure groups are being alienated by public sector unions that are as self-absorbed and lousy corporate citizens as are the misbehaving corporate behemoths on Wall Street.  The need to reform Wall Street remains as imperative as ever, but the spotlight now must be on those who we rely on (and pay for!) for our basic city services and our benefits of living in a civilized society.


We are not serfs, and we are not unreasonable.  Sooner or later, revenue raising efforts will be indicated for our infrastructure and for improving transportation opportunities.


But until we make it clear that many of our public sector already GOT its raises over the past decade, and until we find a way to create a partnership with communities, teams of volunteers (perhaps those wishing to pay off college loans in an arrangement with government to cover those debts) and our civil service, the us/them paradigm will continue to worsen.


Count this as one of the many challenges our new Mayor must confront ... and a challenge that we all, as individuals and community leaders, must also confront.


(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee. He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)







Vol 11 Issue 66

Pub: Aug 16, 2013