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It’s a step in the right direction, but it is a token effort given the scale of the unfunded pension liability during the next 10 years. “The rollbacks only go for future employees,” Adachi points out. “We could have done that with Proposition B, and it might have passed. But it wouldn’t have solved the problem.”
Nor is it clear that anybody outside the universe of executive-branch Democrats (who have more direct responsibility to maintain all the state’s fancy programs) realizes the problem is not solved. Schwarzenegger’s win on S.B. 400 has already allowed complacency to settle in. A spokesman for State Senate President Darrell Steinberg told me after the election that the heavy lifting had already been done by Schwarzenegger. “The S.B. 400 thing was passed as part of the budget,” he said. “The important thing now is to grow the economy, in particular to regenerate the stock market. The single best thing we can do to address pension and retirement problems would be to grow the stock market.”
This attitude is shared by the unions themselves. “Most of the pension issues Governor-elect Brown and Whitman were talking about were implemented in the final budget,” says Ryan Sherman, a spokesman for the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. “So I’m not sure what else they’re going to be looking at. It has been rolled back for everybody.”
This is the landscape the new governor of California is facing. Jerry Brown did not respond to repeated requests for an interview. His comments on the campaign trail indicate he has given serious thought to a public employee compensation crisis that threatens not just the prosperous California favored by free marketers but the technocratic, big-government California favored by progressives. His abysmal track record indicates something else. But Jerry Brown, for better and worse, is full of surprises. He could round out his storied career by becoming California’s Gorbachev.
Tim Cavanaugh (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a senior editor at reason.