The Great Debate

altSANTA CRUZ > Local debate explores whether public employees should be paid less

Santa Cruz has entered the debate on California’s budget deficits, and the Santa Barbara-based California Center for Public Policy (CCPP) is proposing a solution that some people may not agree with: reducing public employee compensation.

The CCPP, a libertarian think tank, organized a “Great Debate” on the subject as part of a statewide campaign to draw attention to the issue. The debate was held at the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History on Tuesday, March 13 and was the first of seven debates in cities across California.

The debate opened with 20-minute presentations from both sides of the issue, with 10-minute rebuttals coming from each side. Once the debaters had said their piece, they each fielded questions from the audience.

Lanny Ebenstein, president of the CCPP and an economics lecturer at UC Santa Barbara, argued the organization’s view that public employees are paid too highly compared to their public sector counterparts.
“Public employees work fewer hours a day, they work fewer days a week, they work fewer weeks a year and they work fewer years in a career than employees in the private sector,” says Ebenstein.

The organization believes employee compensation, especially pensions, is the root cause of local governments struggling to maintain services because of budget issues.

“Until we get employee compensation resolved,” argues Ebenstein, “we’re not going to be able to offer decent public services at a reasonable level of taxation.”

The CCPP invited former Santa Cruz Mayor Mike Rotkin to participate in the event, arguing in favor of public employees.    

Rotkin cited a 2010 joint study by Center for State and Local Government Excellence and National Institute on Retirement Security saying, “If you look just at wages, state employees are paid 11 percent less than employees in the private sector. Local government employees are paid 12 percent less.”

Rotkin argued that the key to battling California’s budget issues is increasing tax revenue, especially on the state’s high-wage earners and large corporations.

“I’m not talking about raising taxes on working people,” says Rotkin. “I’m talking about raising taxes on the people who can afford to pay them.

The CCPP will now take the debate to other cities around the state, including Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Diego and Berkeley.

To learn more about the California Center for Public Policy, visit their website at: californiacenterforpublicpolicy.com.

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