No, this is not a government seizure of private cell phones. Jerry Brown wants your cell phone only if it was issued by the California state government. Even then, the chance of it having to turn it in is only 50%. The newly installed Governor Brown is only proposing to take away government paid cell phones from certain California state employees in an effort to save money. The potential saving is to the tune of $20 million. Trying to close a budget gap in the California state government that is expected to be about $28 billion, the governor needs to find money anywhere he can.
On the way to work this morning, I heard a report on the radio about the proposal from Governor Brown (here’s one link). The gist of the report is:
- Governor Brown does not want all the cell phones back. He just wants half of them back. The total number of phones to be turned in by June 1: about 48,000.
- The state government currently foots the cell phone bills for about 40% of its workforce. The total number of state employees with free cell phones: about 90,000.
- The state government is currently paying on average $36 a month per cell phone.
- Governor Brown’s proposed cell phone reduction order should save the state $20 million.
- Even with the proposed saving, one fifth of the state workers will still use state-funded cell phones.
After I heard this report on the radio, I jotted down the nummbers and I found that these numbers are internally consistent and for the most part accurate. The numbers seem to hang together quite well. Definitely there is no glaring errors. In this one instance of budget cutting at least, Governor Brown and his staff got the numbers right.
Here’s how I looked at these numbers. I am going to discuss each of the points listed above.
- Currently there are about 96,000 state-funded cell phones in the hands of California state givernment employees. Half of these phones are to be turned in by June 1. That leaves 48,000 cell phones still being in the hands of state employees.
- About 90,000 state employees have government cell phones. The count of 90,000 is about 40% of the total state workforce. This means there are currently about 225,000 state employees (see note 1 below).
- The average monthly bill per cell phone is $36, making the average annual bill per cell phone $432.
- The total annual expense for the 48,000 cell phones being cut would be $20,736,000 (see note 2). This amount is slightly over $20 million and is thus in line with the $20 million being reported.
- Even with the proposed saving, one fifth of the state workers will still use state-funded cell phones. One fifth of 225,000 (from point 2) is 45,000. From point 1, about 48,000 government paid cells phones will still be used by state employees. Though the 45,000 is less than 48,000 by 3,000, the difference is not large.
The only external number that I had to find is the total number of state employees in California. The number I obtained from the California State Controller’s Office is 237,576 (as of October 2010). The estimate obtained from the radio report is 225,000 (point 2 above). Overall, the numbers hang together well.
The proposed cut makes sense. According to Governor Brown, some agency heads and managers need to be in touch with employees 24/7. But most state employees do not. However, not the entire amount of proposed saving will be realized this year since some of the cell phones may be under contract with cell carriers. I hope the savings will work out as planned.
To find 40% of 225,000, we multiply 225,000 by 0.40.
But in the radio report, the number 90,000 is given instead. To derive 225,000, we need to do the opposite, i.e. divide 90,000 by 0.40.