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Ron Kaye: It's time for Burbank to think twice

May 17, 2013
  • Columnist Ron Kaye
Columnist Ron Kaye

Here we go again — at the first sign of recovery from the worst recession since the Great Depression, government officials are gearing up to line their pockets with taxpayer money.

The Burbank City Council took the lead last week by granting 100 department heads, managers and other non-union employees raises of up to 5%.

They even voted to give themselves 5% raises, but Councilman Gary Bric had a change of heart just before midnight near the end of a six-hour meeting, saying that "there are a lot of other people that are more deserving of that than we are."

It wasn't clear whether he meant city workers or the populace in general.

The justification for the pay raises put forth by interim City Manager Ken Pulskamp was that staff surveyed other cities in the region and determined that executive salaries in Burbank were 11% below the market average.

Ignoring individual merit and differences in actual responsibilities, training and experience of employees, the argument presented to the council was carefully sculpted to justify the raises because it's in the "public's interest" to have "motivated" managers and to keep the city "competitive."

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In fairness, it has been several years since these workers got raises and they started having to pay a fraction of their pension costs two years ago, an amount that doubled last year and doubles again, now, to 4% of their wages.

Yet, there is a lot that ought to be troubling about this.

Let's start by noting it was this "competitive" argument that got local and state government in so much financial trouble during the last 20 years.

The real competition wasn't to retain employees. It was the pressure on politicians from the unions that helped elect them, pressure to keep up with the public employee Joneses — a spiraling competition that escalates employee costs to the point that Burbank spends 80% of its General Fund on payroll and benefit costs.

One city gave cops and firefighters 90% pensions and then, like lemmings, everybody else followed suit. Same with accelerating pensions for civilian workers so they could retire at 55 with three-quarters of their highest salary.

Then there's the competition to keep up with other cities by expanding health and other benefits, as Burbank did last week, including allowing the employees getting these raises to cash out unused sick leave and vacation time up to 250 hours a year, a 10% increase.

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