Orange County, California is often referred to as the “Most Conservative County in America”. But County Supervisors have made a mockery of that title by increasing spending by $145.8 million, in a year of lower property tax collection. Now that the County has started running out of cash, they simply diverted $73.5 million from the school’s share of property taxes to stop lay-offs of 490 County unionized employees. Conservatives support small government, low taxes, and prudent spending. The County protecting their union buddies at the expense firing 865 school teachers doesn’t sound very conservative to me.
I published a report last week: “California has Drawn Down 85% of its Credit Lines”; where we first reported the State of California has a $13 billion budget short-fall and has already pulled 85% of their available credit lines. I warned the state might start short-checking schools and local government in an attempt to avoid laying-off politically active state unionized employees. But I had no inkling that a big County with an upside-down budget would be the first to rip-off schools to shield powerful union friends.
Orange County has a dicey history when it comes to playing games with other-peoples-money. In 1993, I discovered that the County was trying to cover a $180 million budget short-fall by leveraging the County and the local school’s payroll accounts by 500% and speculating in the wild and woolly world of derivatives. When I confronted the County they claimed what they were doing was “perfectly legal”. I tried to get the FBI, the Controller of the Currency, and the State Attorney General to stop this egregious activity. I was told that: “Government makes laws to regulate the people, not to regulate themselves.” A year later Orange County filed the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. Of the $2 billion in losses, local schools portion was $93 million.
In 2006, I ran and was elected as Orange County Treasurer to succeed Republican John Moorlach; now a Supervisor. When I came in office I discovered the $8 billion County pension plan was leveraged with $22 billion of derivatives. It turns out that the County had granted their unions the highest public pension benefits in the nation by spiking their pensions. To avoid having to actually pay for the higher costs of the benefits spike; the pension plan was secretly taking conspicuously bad investment risks. It took me a year of battling with County officials to get the pension to drastically reduce risk in 2007. Had the County not sold the derivatives, they would have suffered $2 billion in losses in 2008 Credit Crisis.
Supervisor John Moorlach rationalizes ripping-off schools as a method to force the replacement of a $49 million state revenue stream eliminated in last year’s budget crisis:
"We must keep our $49.5 million and we rightfully deserve the additional $24 million. The schools must be backfilled by the State. The State has to figure out how to come up with the $73.5 million. Had the Legislature and the Governor simply left the OC alone, it would have been $24 million ahead. Now we have to wait and see how Sacramento responds to our having informed them that we are following the law. Let's hope they agree and we can all move on."
The power of public employee unions is well-known across the U.S. But what isn’t known is how politicians mouth an ultra-conservative position, while cutting side deals for union support. It is said: “The less the people know about how sausages and laws are made, the better they sleep in the night”. Unfortunately, the County of Orange’s rip-off of schools is now in the public eye. The schools will file a law suit and in three to five years win and get paid back. But during that delay, the Supervisors will have generated some very un-conservative rich and powerful friends.
Feel free to forward this Op Ed and follow our Blog at www.chrissstreetandcompany.com
Thank you all the success of Chriss Street’s latest book: “The Third Way”; now available on www.amazon.com and available through Barnes & Nobel on November 28.