Start Saving by Cutting Fat

Santa Clara County officials, facing a $111 million budget
shortfall, are predicting that they’ll have to lay off a
significant number of workers to make ends meet.
Santa Clara County officials, facing a $111 million budget shortfall, are predicting that they’ll have to lay off a significant number of workers to make ends meet.

Before they take that step, we have a few suggestions:

Cut the fat first. Now we can hear supervisors protesting as they read this, “But there is no fat.”

We heard foreshadowing of that in Don Gage’s comment to reporter Matt King: “The only way they can (reduce budgets) is to reduce services and cut people. Their budgets are down to the point where they can’t do anything else.”

That’s a hard sell, one that we’re not buying, and here’s a prime example of why: If the county can afford to send county employees to the polls on Nov. 8, and allow them to double-dip (pay them their county salary and the poll worker stipend), there’s fat to be cut. Find it. Get rid of it.

Renegotiate contracts with the unions representing county workers. It’s pretty clear that county workers can either reduce pay, benefits or both, or reduce their numbers.

Given that county benefits are way out of line with private sector benefits, reducing benefits seems to be a reasonable place to start those talks.

If cuts are still required after these two steps are followed, then do not make them the no-brain-required across-the-board cuts that politicians tend to favor.

Not all departments, not all services are of equal value. Make targeted cuts aimed at places where taxpayers, the people the county is supposed to serve, will feel them the least.

For the long-term fiscal health of the county, take a look at programs and services for bureaucratic inefficiencies.

Do unproductive workers fill county jobs? Find ways to get rid of them, even if it means renegotiating union contracts. No one, most especially unions, is helped by protecting workers who aren’t pulling their weight.

The $111 million shortfall is more than twice what county officials were expecting.

County Administrator Pete Kutras said that much of the surprise red ink is due to liability insurance, debt service, salaries and benefits, and workers’ compensation costs.

If that’s the case, then renegotiating union contracts, not layoffs and peanut-butter-spread cuts, is a sensible place to start.

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