Cities need reform, not bailouts

By Jim Righeimer and Bruce Whitaker | The inevitable has happened, restoring our faith in the logic of the universe: the local politicians who supported Gov. Newsom’s shutdown of the California economy now want the governor and the Trump administration to bail them out.

But don’t be fooled. Even if you think killing the economy has been necessary, the coming collapse of government finances has less to do with the virus or the economic shutdown than with crazy government spending that goes back years, even decades. The catastrophe for cities wasn’t created in the past few weeks.

Oh, they’ll tell you it’s all about the virus. Indeed, that’s what the mayors of two Orange County cities recently proclaimed in these very pages. Under the grim-but-hopeful headline “Ensuring the survival of SoCal cities after this pandemic,” mayors Jennifer Fitzgerald of Fullerton and Katrina Foley of Costa Mesa asserted, “The COVID-19 crisis is crushing already cash-strapped California cities.”

The key word is “already.” With a few brief periods of reform, government unions supported the political campaigns of candidates like Fitzgerald and Foley. Once elected, these officials signed off on every new pay and benefits hike proposed by the union leaders who helped them into public office.

We could pick at the facts in their essay — we could point out that the 54 employees Foley claims she’ll have to lay off to are mostly part-time recreational staff.

But these are quibbles. Our key point is that, in the years leading up to economic lockdown, these and other California officials have rubber-stamped pay hikes and pension benefits that their supporters, the public employee unions, demanded of them. Their government finances were unaffordable long before this disaster. The shutdown has only sped up the process of insolvency.

Consider the shameful example of Fullerton’s streets.

To read the rest of this op-ed in the Orange County Register, please click here.

Jim Righeimer was elected to the Costa Mesa City council twice and served from 2010 to 2018.  He was mayor from 2012 to 2014. Bruce Whitaker was first elected to the Fullerton City Council in 2010 and has since been reelected twice. He was mayor in 2013 and 2017.

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