August 31st, 2010, 4:12 pm · posted by Teri Sforza, Register staff writer

As the Bell scandal and the debate over government transparency rages, we ask you to consider these revealing numbers from our friends at the U.S. Census Bureau:

In the five years between 2002 and 2007, the number of full-time equivalent employees in all state and local governments in California grew just three percent, while the cost of paying those folks grew 26 percent.

How this breaks down may tell us something interesting about this government transparency thing. Stay with us here!

* State government, alone (a rather closely-watched entity), saw employees rise 2 percent, and payroll rise 23 percent, between 2002 and 2007.
* Local government, alone (less closely-watched?), saw employees rise 4 percent and payroll rise 27 percent.
* School districts, alone (a mixed-bag on how well they’re watched), also saw employees rise 3 percent and payroll rise 27 percent.
* But special districts, alone (perhaps the most unwatched governments of all), saw employees rise 14 percent, and payroll rise 40 percent.

Yikes! That’s a rather startling jump for our friends who run your water districts and sewer districts and library districts and cemetery districts, no?

When we plugged in the Census Bureau’s 2009 numbers to our spreadsheet, special district growth was even more incredible — so much so that we are doubling back with the Census Bureau to see if those numbers can possibly be right. We’ll keep you posted.

It makes one wonder if the argument put forward by special district types — that these little local governments are the closest to the people, and thus the most responsive — hold water. (See below for raw numbers.)

THE BIG PICTURE

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