Letters for April 15, 2004

Stewart’s fuzzy math

Re “First cut’s the deepest” by Jill Stewart (SN&R Capitol punishment, April 1):

Generally, I find your opinion columns pretty close to the money. Your paper seems to care, and that is good. In this particular article, however, someone did not check the facts.

Stewart draws a wide net, implying that the “state’s workforce … enjoyed a mind-blowing 41-percent jump in salary and benefits in the last five years.” She also refers to the “3-percent-of-50 deal,” with the implication that it applies to the entire state workforce (3-percent-of-50 should actually be 3-percent-at-50, by the way).

I’m here to tell you that this statement may be true for very limited numbers of employee groups (select prison guards, etc.), who, indeed, may have cut sweetheart deals with the previous administration, but the vast majority of the general state workforce absolutely did not receive these perks.

In my own case (which is true for most employee groups), I get “2 percent at 55,” amounting to 62 percent of income after 31 years of service (calculate 2 x 31 years for percent of income for “gross” retirement amount). Let me also tell you that 62 percent of income after 31 years is no picnic. In fact, even though I am turning 55 this month, I expect to work another several years because I can’t live on 62 percent of income.

And, believe me, if my package had gone up 41 percent in the last five years, I would know about it—and it hasn’t.

Are there good benefits with the state? Yes. Did some small groups get sweetheart deals? Probably. Should some of those sweetheart deals get reversed? Again, probably; I, too, am a taxpayer.

On the other hand (as a computer-systems guy), when Silicon Valley folks were getting big annual raises, stock options and signing bonuses, the state workforce wasn’t.

It is hardly fair to slam the whole state workforce for trying to hold onto the incremental raises that have been received.

Stewart took some cheap shots at an easy target and misstated several facts along the way. I hope that she goes back and checks her sources, and I hope she is more careful and balanced in the future.

John C. Garretson

Clarification: The early retirement of 3 percent at age 50 that Jill Stewart cited in her column is not an across-the-board program. Some employees will be able to retire at 50 with 3 percent; others, at 55, with pensions in a range from 2 percent to 3 percent. This is still an earlier minimum retirement age than state workers had before and is certainly a lower minimum than many private-sector workers are offered.

A union-busting agenda

Re “First cut’s the deepest” by Jill Stewart (SN&R Capitol punishment, April 1):

Jill Stewart’s column manages to spin facts about a small portion of state workers into inaccurate generalizations about all state workers, and I sincerely hope that the editors at SN&R will rein her in.

There is one idea she mentions as “sensible” that deserves to be exposed in the light of day for what it really is, though, and that’s Tom McClintock’s proposed two-tiered retirement system.

For years, specialists in union-busting have urged employers to negotiate two-tiered benefit systems with unions. The employers claim that it will protect the benefits of longtime workers from the vicissitudes of the economy. In reality, it simply removes any incentive for new hires to join the union. Why should they, if the union is willing to let them be treated as second-class employees? Eventually, attrition destroys the union far more effectively than hired goons.

Yes, problems arise when unions become too well-connected to politicians, but the problem is not with the concept of a union; it’s with the way money flows through the political system. Stewart’s written some solid, independently reasoned stuff on that topic, which makes this piece’s knee-jerk negative attitude toward all state employees’ unions even more difficult to understand.

Sheryl Beauvais

Jill Limbaugh

Re “First cut’s the deepest” by Jill Stewart (SN&R Capitol punishment, April 1):

This commentary seems to sink SN&R to the level of AM talk radio. Stewart writes in endless overgeneralizations, with few facts and with a strong conservative bias.

So what if the state of California employs 235,000 workers? We are a huge state with huge needs for education, health care, correctional facilities, transportation, and regulation and licensure of every industry in the state (including agriculture, medicine, manufacturing, and commerce). Stewart asserts that there are too many workers, yet she provides few facts and fewer alternatives.

The largest impact to employment in state government in the last decade has been the result of the “three strikes” law and longer sentences for some drug crimes, which has caused the Department of Corrections to grow. Does Stewart want to change those laws? Does she understand how much staff it takes to supervise the growing number of inmates?

State government grows when the Legislature and governor approve new programs. If Stewart wants to write about state employment, she must analyze what agencies have grown and which laws led to this growth. State workers only implement laws and regulations approved by the Legislature, governor and voters.

Without analyzing these factors, Stewart is all air, all the time. What happened to SN&R? You used to be cool!

David Merritt

Vegan money talks— and walks

Re “Vegans can bloody well stay home” (SN&R Letters, April 1):

The author of this letter may think that vegans should “bloody well stay home” if they can’t find anything to eat at her restaurant, but in reality, they don’t stay home. They just go somewhere else.

While my non-leather shoes walk past her restaurant to spend my soy-milk money elsewhere, I’ll be followed by my carnivorous friends and family, who outnumber me 99 percent of the time. They will buy their steaks and beer at a restaurant that can feed me a nice veggie burger. They will order their fettuccini and wine at a restaurant that can serve up a delicious, cheese-less pizza. They will purchase their chicken fajitas at a restaurant where I can get a saucy vegan enchilada, while we wash it all down with the first of many wallet-loosening margaritas.

I personally don’t care if cholesterol is the common theme on your menu. Just don’t be surprised when my bacon-eating, steak-loving, cheese-dipping friends walk by without giving your restaurant a second glance. And don’t be surprised when they keep on walking out of habit, even when I’m not there to “limit” their choices.

As she pointed out, it’s all about profit. The Kraft Foods giant didn’t buy the rights to the soy-based Boca Burger out of sympathy for cows.

Philip Wright

Vegan scrapple!

Re “Feed me, Sacramento!” by Becca Costello (SN&R Arts&culture, March 25):

I couldn’t agree with Becca Costello’s sentiments more.

One thing that I found funny was your reference to haggis. In Scotland, they have vegan haggis that you can buy in grocery stores. It’s actually very delicious and is made of a variety of grains, beans and spices. A vegan Scottish friend of mine swears by vegan haggis and usually brings three or four frozen ones back to the states every time he travels. It’s proof positive that even the sketchiest meat products can be made vegan, somehow, some way. I swear, I’ll drop over dead when they invent a vegan scrapple!

Katherine Ebersole
via e-mail

Don’t give up helping homeless

Re “Aid for the homeless” (SN&R Ask Joey, March 25):

Your “spiritual” columnist Joey Garcia advised against giving money to the homeless because it would “contribute to the continuation of their suffering.” She is either clearly not a compassionate person, or she is overanalyzing a desire to not get involved.

To those who feel the need to assist the homeless: Please, do! My rule of thumb is to give when I can, and it is not your responsibility how the money is used. It’s a matter of faith. Psyching yourself out about how your dollar may be spent is petty compared to their real need.

Every dollar can potentially help the homeless with food, water, clothing or shelter. Your gut instinct to help can potentially save a person’s life. You can’t help everyone, but you can pick people whose hardships grab you the most. I choose to give to elderly or fragile people; if a person looks like he or she is in really bad shape, you can call the police or adult protective services to “rescue” them.

The world needs more people who actively care.

G.M. Murphy