"Lock Your Doors and Load Your Guns"

Posted by - Monday, December 3rd, 2012

The unintended consequences of San Bernadino's absurd government spending spree were on full display at a recent city council meeting.

City Attorney Jim Penman explained that because the city is bankrupt and slashing public safety budgets people will need to start protecting themselves. His advice: “Lock your doors and load your guns.”

It certainly wasn't what the 150 citizens who attended the meeting to address long police response times and rising crime rates, including 45 murders, wanted to hear.

The violent crime rate has risen to 10.67 per 1,000 residents. That is compared to a 4.41 average for California and 4.0 for the national median.

Unfortunately, San Bernardino's irresponsible budget management leaves very few other options for its imperiled residents.

Wages and pensions quickly grew out-of-control as city officials caved to union demands. At the same time, the government officials generously compensated themselves at tax payer expense.

Over the last decade, the salaries and retirement benefits of San Bernardino's city workers, and especially its police and firemen, grew richer and richer. Meanwhile, the tax base was shrinking as the city lost its major employers.

For example, the average salary for a full-time San Bernardino firefighter in 1997 was $75,610, adjusted for inflation into 2010 dollars. By 2010, it was nearly $147,000. That comes with a "3% at 50" plan passed in 2006 that allows police and firefighters to retire at 50 with a pension of up to 90% of their final salary.

According to a Reuters analysis, almost 75% of the city's general fund is now spent solely on the police and fire departments, yet the city still does not have an adequate police force to contain crime.

Even then, the city is failing to meet the obligations it created for itself. As reported in Wealth Wire last week, the city already owes the California Public Employees' Retirement System – or Calpers - $143.5 million and its biweekly $1.2 million in payments have been halted since bankruptcy protection started on August 1, 2012.

Mr. Penman has also stated that 13 of the past 16 city budgets had been falsified. He hasn't provided specific details, but has not retracted his statements either.

There certainly is no doubt that city officials are purposely making it as hard as possible to see how they have ravaged the city. The most recent 642-page budget document for the city doesn't use the word pension a single time. Retiree costs are buried in detailed departmental line items.

Mr. Penman's comment has drawn scrutiny and backlash but he is fundamentally right. As he explains, “Let's be honest, we don't have enough police officers. We have too many criminals living in this city. We've had 45 murders this year – far too high for a city this size.”

While Penman's comments may seem extreme to some, it is a potent and grim warning for any and all municipalities that are struggling to handle weakened budgets while being pressured for higher wages and benefits by unions.

Penman's views are shared in other cities too. As reported in Wealth Wire, The Detroit Police Officer Association passed out flyers in October with a dire warning written emblazoned across the top: "Enter Detroit at your own risk."

In any city burdened by high wage and pension costs, there is little flexibility to provide increased protection or shorter response times. At a certain point, it falls on everyday citizens to lock their doors, load their guns and hope for the best.

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