Here's an interesting and penetrating look at how California got into its budget mess -- one that I think contains a great deal of truth. It gets played out in microcosm with prison guards, but really the issue is public employee unions wielding such great political clout. In the private sector, unions can only get so much strength -- when a company stops being profitable, it can start laying off workers, even in unions, and ultimately reorganize under Chapter 11 to get out from under an oppressive memorandum of understanding. But a state does not really have that option, particularly when functionally all of its political leadership is captured within the orbit of the interest groups that are leeching the state dry.
It's tough to say to any particular employee of the public -- teachers, police, prison guards, public engineers, even clerks at places like the DMV -- that they are doing unimportant work and deserve low pay. Of course they deserve decent pay and everyone benefits when the state can afford to pay enough money and benefits to such people to attract competent workers for those jobs. But when it gets taken too far, you get, well, you get California in 2010.
One wonders, again, what the state-level equivalent of Chapter 11 might be.