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COMMENTARY: Blame government unions, not illegals, for financial woes

Is it too much to ask that those who are sworn to enforce the laws actually follow them? After all, when laws are broken, other people pay the price.

You may have heard that California is running out of money. This is true.

You may have also heard that the Golden State is home to an estimated 2.5 million illegal immigrants, and that this is what is driving California into bankruptcy. This is false.

At least that’s what I heard more than a decade ago from former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

At the time, Nativist talk-radio hosts were spewing baseless claims that the state’s financial insolvency was all due to costs incurred because of illegal immigration. “That is not so,” Schwarzenegger told me and the other members of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune in 2008.

Back then, and still to this day, the real culprit is something that is perfectly legal: public employee unions.

I recently tried explaining these facts of life to a group of farmers — most of whom, I will say, seemed to understand the point quite well. After I’d spoken on the immigration debate for about 45 minutes, a man suggested the real difference between past and present waves of immigrants was the advent of the welfare state, and the cost that is now incurred by government to deal with illegal immigration.

He was right — and he was wrong.

He was right that, in counties that are home to large numbers of illegal immigrants, there is a financial burden on schools, jails, hospitals and social services.

But he was wrong not to look at the other side of the ledger, and acknowledge the financial benefit of illegal immigration to the state’s cities and counties, and to the state itself. Illegal immigration keeps the California economy afloat — jobs get filled, profits get earned, wages get spent and taxes get paid.

Besides, the cost side is nickels and dimes compared with what local and state governments are paying out every month to people who don’t even work. You see, in the Golden State, we have problems that a big, beautiful border wall won’t fix. One of them is public employee unions.

Created to allow government workers to engage in collective bargaining, these labor organizations are now major players in the political process. They tell politicians what to do, and — because unions convert members’ dues to campaign contributions, mainly for Democrats — the politicians do as they’re told. Then the unions are able to shower their members with lavish salaries, generous benefits and hefty pensions. The bill is footed by taxpayers.

In San Diego, which earned national headlines as “Enron by the Sea” about 15 years ago for its financial struggles due to a gold-plated public employees’ retirement system, the joke in law enforcement circles was that the police brass had to retire because they couldn’t afford to keep working.

It’s not unusual to find retired cops who pocket, thanks to the generosity of cities and counties, six-figure pensions plus lifetime medical benefits.

State police officers — such as prison guards and members of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) — get among the best pensions of all. In fact, you could say they make out like bandits.

It’s good work, if you can get it. And, often, people get these plum jobs in state law enforcement thanks to family members who are already in the system. Speaking of family, I had a front-row seat to this issue growing up. My father was a cop in central California. That’s what makes the following story so painful to hear.

Dozens of CHP officers are suddenly in hot water, accused of lying about lucrative overtime they claimed to have worked. And CHP supervisors were allegedly in on the scam.

Making matters worse, the original assignment was a cakewalk. The officers provided “protection details” for Caltrans workers doing freeway maintenance work. The gig involves sitting in a patrol car at each end of a construction zone to ensure motorists don’t get too close to the freeway workers.

The racket allegedly defrauded the state out of about $360,000. The officers are temporarily relieved of duty, and an investigation is underway. The Los Angeles County district attorney could file criminal fraud charges.

If found guilty, people should go to jail. We need accountability. What part of “illegal” do these scoundrels not understand?

As for financial solvency, Californians also need to focus our outrage at the real problem. Guess what? It’s homegrown.

Ruben Navarrette’s email address is ruben@rubennavarrette.com. His daily podcast, “Navarrette Nation,” is available through every podcast app.

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