Let’s stipulate that public employee pension costs are not the fundamental cause of California’s financial problems. We can even accept the argument from the union-backed Californians for Retirement Security that “the average public pension in California is $26,000-a-year,” that “three-quarters of CalPERS retirees collect $36,000 or less” and that “public pensions equal just 3% percent of California’s budget.”
But public employee unions and their Democratic sock puppets in the Legislature are kidding themselves if they think they don’t have a political problem anyway. Whatever portion of California’s fiscal failings is a function of public employee pensions – and no one is arguing that it’s zero percent – labor leaders and their cronies need to convince the vast voting public that they are part of the solution, not the source of the problem.
Which is why, as a political matter – and clearly, Calbuzz is far, far better equipped to discuss the politics than the policy — the unions and their legislative allies are nuts to take a hard line against Gov. Jerry Brown’s opening gambit on pension reform.
You want policy analysis? Read our pal Dan Borenstein in the Contra Costa Times who says, “Brown’s new pension reform plan signals he’s serious about restoring fiscal sanity to public employee retirement systems, but it lacks critical details and doesn’t stop the transfer of hundreds of billions of dollars of debt to our children.”
But if you want to see an ostrich response, check out this from Dave Low, chairman of Californians for Retirement Security:
“We are disappointed that the governor is proposing pension changes that will undermine retirement security for public employees. It is unfortunate that he has proposed to increase the retirement age, shift greater costs to workers and impose a hybrid plan on new employees, when public employees already have agreed to hundreds of millions of dollars in pension concessions at the state and local level.”
Impactful profundity: No it’s not “unfortunate” that Brown has proposed these changes. In fact, Big Labor ought to be damn glad the governor is seeking to maintain and not gut public employee pensions. What they don’t seem to get is what Steve Harmon and John Woolfolk of the San Jose MurkyNews picked up on when Brown unveiled his proposals.
“Brown suggested that, as they react to his pension proposal, Democrats in the Legislature should think about their broader political goals, such as winning voter approval of tax increases in November 2012,” they wrote.
“It’ll be up to the Legislature to rise above the pressures and enact real pension reform, particularly if they’re desirous of having a favorable reaction on the part of the electorate,” Brown said. “November could have some very profoundly impactful measures on the ballot. I’d say the Legislature is well-advised to take this very seriously and get it all enacted and get it on the ballot in November when there will be other things on it that they’re quite interested in.”
And that’s the central point in all of this. Calbuzz would argue that most, if not all, of California’s financial woes, not to say its social injustices, would be eliminated by addressing the inequality of Proposition 13’s application to commercial and industrial property; the lack of an oil-severance tax; a shift of sales taxes toward services; a return to pre-Schwarzenegger-level vehicle license fees, an increased income tax on millionaires and an end to the single sales factor break.
But if any of these measures are to have a chance of survival, the public has to be convinced that public employee pensions are not cause of what ails us. And to win that argument, public employee unions need to show they’re willing to participate in solving California’s long-term financial health – whether or not they’re the cause of the problem.
Bottom line: Perhaps, as Borenstein argues, Brown has not gone far enough. But he has laid out a set of proposals that, taken together, begin to address the public employee pension issue without attacking state workers or wiping out the concept of defined benefits and the rights of public employees.
That should be a starting point for constructive engagement – not a battle cry to the trenches.