I write this from San Francisco where I am setting up the West Coast branch of my nationwide chain of Karl Rove Reading Rooms. They're a little like Christian Science reading rooms but with a picture of Sarah Palin on the wall, the complete works of Ludwig von Mises on the shelves, and a nice selection of single malt scotches at the wet bar. Contact me for franchise opportunities.
The first West Coast location is in my brother's historic home in the tony Pacific Heights neighborhood where I am house-sitting. Will he be surprised when he returns from vacation!
San Francisco is one of the most exciting and beautiful cities in the world; also the most expensive. A two-bedroom condo that in Madison could be had for $250,000 costs at least three times that amount here.
The weather is weird, too. Daily highs here in the city by the bay are in the mid-60s while, 56 miles inland in the bedroom community of Brentwood, the high is 92. Every morning here in SF starts out foggy and then turns sunny. It's also quite windy. Bob Lindmeier would be bored out here but the flora loves it. Roses stay in bloom longer because they don't get burned out by Wisconsin's 90-degree heat.
The Russians have landed
The Ruskies are here. A Russian Navy missile cruiser is docked at the Embarcadero on San Francisco Bay this week, its turret cannons seemingly pointed toward Silicon Valley to the south. The Varyag is armed with missiles that can strike targets 3,400 miles away. Maybe they've come to claim the Russian Hill neighborhood next to Nob Hill.
At least the Varyag has not aimed its weapons of mass destruction at the Stately Manor, which is equipped with plenty firepower of its own.
Russian President Medvedev has landed, as well. He brought with him one of Russia's plutocrats, a fellow worth $1.8 billion, who is helping bail out Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Two hundred years ago, while Father Junipero Serra was building his Spanish missions northward from San Diego, the Russians were working their way down the coast from Alaska. The last mission was built by the newly independent government of Mexico in Sonoma to checkmate the outpost the Russians had erected at Fort Ross (Rossiya) along the coast in Sonoma County, in 1812. I visited the fort, with its weathered wood onion domes, a few years back. It's probably the coldest place in California, wouldn't you know.
But the state loses $800,000 a year running the isolated historic site. Enter the Russian plutocrat, who has volunteered to pick up the tab.
Could we get the French to pay for Villa Louis in Prairie du Chien?
California's economy is a basket case. The unemployment rate is 12 percent. Government at every level is broke.
San Francisco's $6.5 billion budget is $438 million in the hole. Mayor Gavin Newsome, who makes Dave Cieslewicz look like a tea partier, wants to contract out a few services to save a paltry $13 million.
"Several supervisors have said it would be bad public policy that undercuts the city's union workforce," the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
So, there's a measure on the November ballot to delete a guarantee that the city's bus drivers be the second-highest paid transit drivers in the country. Now, is that crazy, or what? The measure is being pushed by a county supervisor (they only have 11 here compared to Dane County's 37) through the referendum process because -- get this -- he could get no support from his fellow supervisors.
Just as the Milwaukee County Board keeps adding spending by overriding County Executive Scott Walker's vetoes, San Francisco supervisors owe their elections to the union nabobs. That is why they are addicted to the tax fix to keep feeding their organized labor paymasters. There are proposals to tax booze, condo conversions, parking, and commercial rents. San Francisco city and county are one and the same so it has a mayor and a board of supervisors but no city council or county executive.
It is clear that the powerful government employee unions control a majority of the supervisors here. Pensions and employee health care account for one of every $5 in the city budget -- 28 times more than is spent on streets, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Unionized cops, firefighters, and public transit drivers
Across the bay in Oakland, Mayor Ron Dellums (the old radical Leftist congressman) is laying off 53 of the city's 776 police officers. Oakland is the sixth-most violent city in the U.S. That city has an ordinance that requires staffing at a certain number of officers; like the San Francisco mandate, it's up for repeal in November. Even so, Oakland wants to raise property taxes an average of $360 per parcel; without the tax hike, the city is looking at 216 layoffs.
Police and fire account for 85 percent of the city's general fund expenditures. Maintaining police and fire budgets at existing levels threatens to eliminate every other city service, the Chronicle reports.
Ready for more weirdness? Oakland firefighters have a no layoff clause in their contracts. So the crime-ridden city is looking at its police.
The city says layoffs could be minimized if police officers paid 9 percent of their salary toward their pensions, as other city workers do.
So, maybe Scott Walker's proposal that state employees in Wisconsin pay something toward their pensions is not so outlandish.
On the North Bay, the city of Vallejo, population 120,000, declared bankruptcy two years ago and is still $20 million in the red on a budget of $65 million. The city has eliminated funding for libraries, senior citizen programs, and recreation. The street repair budget has been cut by 90 percent. The police force is down to 96 from 158. Now, get this: the police union is due a 7 percent raise on July 1, meaning more layoffs are likely.
Wouldn't you think the cop union would take a wage freeze to save jobs?
Still more weirdness: San Francisco's unionized cops are voting this week on whether to defer -- not forego -- a 2 percent raise scheduled later this year. That vote won't affect a 4 percent hike they are due on July 1. It's not even on the table.
Did you get a 4 percent raise? Reminds me of Madison's unionized teachers.
Schools to close
Down the coast in Alameda, voters supported a tax hike that would hit business property owners to the tune of $9,500 per parcel but homeowners only $659 per parcel. (Unlike Wisconsin, California appears not to have property tax uniformity.) The school board says it will have to close half the 14 schools in town, including one of the two high schools. The tax measure was approved by 65.3 percent of voters who are always happy to raise someone else's taxes. Fortunately, the vote was below the required a two-thirds majority.
The Alameda school board has already closed down its gifted student program, adult education, and student counseling.
San Francisco's public schools are cutting art and summer school to help bridge a two-year, $113 million deficit.
Ban public employee unionization?
That's where the Washington Examiner is at.
Only 7 percent of the American workforce is unionized but 51 percent of all union members are government employees. It's a incestuous relationship. Democrats encourage unions because unions finance the politicians' political campaigns.
There was a time in America when the typical union member was a blue-collar guy sweating in a Pittsburgh steel mill, screwing together Chevies in Detroit or loading and unloading ships on the San Francisco docks. But things are radically different today because Joe Lunchpail has been replaced by white-collar Todd and Margo Yuppiecrat processing Social Security checks in Baltimore, conducting environmental audits in Denver or keeping the lines moving at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
Peter Scheer of SF Gate.com writes that "despite … years of unparalleled clout in state capitols, public-sector unions find themselves on the defensive, desperately trying to hold onto past gains in the face of a skeptical press and angry voters.
By the 1990s, California's government unions had decided that, rather than cultivate voter support for their objectives, they could exert more influence in the Legislature, and in the political process generally, by lavishing campaign contributions on lawmakers. Adopting the tactics of other special-interest groups, government unions paid lip service to democratic principles while excelling at the fundamentally anti-democratic strategy of writing checks to legislators, their election committees and political action committees.
By the 1990s, California's organized labor lobby got the legislature to keep the public -- to keep taxpayers -- from seeing collective-bargaining agreements negotiated by cities and counties until after the agreements were signed.
Politico reports, in "Pols turn on labor unions," that "Republicans around the nation have cheered New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whose shouting match over budget cuts with an outraged teacher -- "You don't have to" teach, he told her without sympathy -- became a YouTube sensation on the right last week.
"We have a new privileged class in America," said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, who rescinded state workers' collective bargaining power on his first day in office in 2006. "We used to think of government workers as underpaid public servants. Now they are better paid than the people who pay their salaries."
As he completes his last year in office, Gov. Schwarzenegger vows to accomplish public employee pension reform.
"I will hold up the budget. It doesn't matter how long it drags -- into the summer or fall or into November or after my administration -- and I think the people will support that."