Former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan has dropped his quest, on which he spent a reported $500,000, to gather signatures for a ballot initiative that would have replaced defined-benefit pensions for city employees with 401(k)-style defined-contribution plans.
Similar initiatives were approved last June by more than two-thirds of voters in San Diego and San Jose, cities where pension contributions account for 20 percent and 27 percent, respectively, of their budgets. L.A.'s public-sector pension share of the budget is at 19 percent currently, and has been projected to reach 26 percent by 2016. The trend lines are unmistakable: California's public-sector pension contributions have increased by more than 300 percent over the last decade, a key reason why the state is a fiscal disaster area and its cities keep going bankrupt.
Unsurprisingly, L.A.'s debased, union-dominated political class has depicted the 82-year-old former mayor as a moral monster throughout. The Los Angeles Police Protective League described the initiative's backers as a "billionaire boys club." And the current city government (which Riordan ran from 1993-2001) treated him like this:
[W]hen Riordan spoke at a council meeting last week, he was dressed down by Council President Herb Wesson, who smiled and asked him why he didn't fix the city's budget problems when he was mayor.
Riordan started to respond, but Wesson shut off his microphone. "There's no back and forth. I get the last word," said Wesson, adding: "This is our house."
Wesson, by the way, is paid by Angelenos more than $178,000 a year to act this way.
After the jump, if you so choose, read a mild clarification from me about how I was quoted in the L.A. Times article on Riordan's withdrawal.
At the bottom of the Times piece, there is a section discussing how longtime Riordan confederate Steve Soboroff declined to support the initiative:
[Soboroff] suggested his friend has a tendency to flit from cause to cause, making announcements about new ventures and then dropping them.
"He goes week to week and has missions du jour," said Soboroff, who pointed to Riordan's much-discussed bid a decade ago to create a new newspaper in Los Angeles.
Journalist Matt Welch recalled Riordan spent more than a year talking with local writers about the project.
But after excited conversations, trips to Riordan's Brentwood mansion and even the creation of a mock-up issue, Riordan's interest fizzled, recalled Welch, now editor in chief of Reason magazine. By 2003, Riordan was engrossed in the campaign to recall Gov. Gray Davis and lost interest in the newspaper project, he said.
"Riordan is scatterbrained," Welch said. "And I say that as somebody who's fond of him."
The former mayor countered that the newspaper effort and his pension proposal were not comparable and he has a record of getting things done. On the pension proposal, he said, he got too late a start gathering signatures.
My quote there is accurate. However, as I told reporter David Zahniser, I A) have no idea whether the scatterbrainedness had anything to do with Riordan's announcement yesterday; B) know that Riordan has personally focused on the pension reform issue for several years now, much longer than he did on our brief newspaper-plotting collaboration; and C) think that what looks like (and sometimes is) short and quickly forgotten bursts of enthusiasm can also be evidence of an entrepreneurial and productive mind. It's easy to make fun of people throwing ideas at the wall to see which ones stick, but at least they've got ideas, and are trying to do stuff.
And in this case, that stuff is precisely what Los Angeles needs but won't soon get: a long-overdue correction to unaffordable public-sector union promises made by politicians elected in large part by public sector unions. Los Angeles needs more Richard Riordans, and fewer Herb Wessons.