Apparently miffed at the governor and legislators for criticizing state workers’ salaries and pensions in light of the budget crunch, the 22,000-member Professional Engineers in California Government (PECG) went on the offensive last week by running radio and print ads saying the state wastes taxpayers’ money by outsourcing to private firms.
PECG says it started the advertising campaign to also dispel myths about Public Employees Retirement System pensions.
The radio ads are running in major metropolitan areas in California, such as KNX 1070 and KABC 790 in Los Angeles, KCBS 740 in San Francisco and KFBK 1530 in Sacramento. PECG says the ads inform the public that outsourcing of engineering or related services costs the taxpayer more than “twice as much as having public servants do the work,” and that the average PERS pension is less than $2,000 per month, “not the bloated figure reported by those who would destroy public pensions.”
PECG’s long-running efforts to combat public-private partnerships for state construction projects also includes the claim that the state is wasting “hundreds of millions of dollars each year” by giving no-bid contracts to private consultants. (It claims to have state budget documents that show this practice, though I’m sure Caltrans does not operate that way.)
Meanwhile, the American Council of Engineering Cos. – California issued a statement in response to PECG’s advertising campaign.
“In today’s difficult economy when private citizens are losing their jobs and benefits and state workers are receiving three-day furlough notices, it is incomprehensible to us that PECG is spending tens of thousands in taxpayer-generated dollars to create and run a series of ads attacking contracted out services and to spread misinformation about the real costs of state pensions,” says Tom Blackburn, the newly elected president of the ACEC in California.
“The truth is that many private engineers lucky enough to be employed are facing heavy salary reductions as contracts are canceled and more work is retained by public-union employees. The whole idea of ads attacking the long accepted practice of contracting out services to private companies in California is disappointing.”
Blackburn says that PECG’s “misleading” ad campaign states that pension benefits are only $2,000 per state worker, per month.
“In reality, state workers earn 2% per year for every year of state employment,” he says. “For a 35-year state worker, they earn 70% of their last year’s salary. A PECG engineer, who retires on a salary of $80,000 with 35 years of service, earns a pension of $4,600 per month, plus generous health coverage for life. PECG’s figure of $2,000 per month does not represent the reality of the true cost to the taxpayers for the PECG members.”
Blackburn adds that contrary to state and union-sponsored studies, a 2007 study authored by the former head of the non-partisan state Legislative Analyst’s Office, showed that the comparable cost of state-employed in house engineers ranged from $173,434 to $209,212 -- while the average cost of an outside (privately-employed) engineer was $193,000. (To read the entire report, click here.)
Blackburn notes that PECG’s favorite ploy is to point out that ACEC sponsored this survey.
“However, it fails to point out that most if not all of the surveys it uses to spread numbers were written by state employees and consultants,” he says. “ACEC has challenged PECG to co-sponsor an independent final study by a mutually agreed upon academic resource, but thus far PECG has chosen to avoid the proposition.”
“Frankly, the real point is that the excessive use of in-house engineering services places a long term financial burden on the state, one that we have only lately come to realize cannot be paid,” says Blackburn.
“Right now less than 10% of the transportation engineering and design work conducted by the state of California is contracted out to California private engineering companies,” he adds. “90% of the work is now handled by state employees… right now, today! That’s nine work units to state employees for just one work unit allocated to private engineers. Based on that inequity, it is both disingenuous and condescending of the union representing state workers to suggest that cost savings of any kind can be made by further restricting contracts to the private companies. If anything, the opposite is true. And we strongly suggest that is the real motivation behind the obfuscation in their ad campaign and press flyers. This negative PECG campaign is bad for taxpayers, business, private taxpaying consultants, and in the long run, even bad for the many fine public employees whose system will eventually collapse under its own weight.”